Review: ‘Troilus and Cressida’ – Any Shakespeare is good in the park.

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

Troilus and Cressida, produced by The Public Theater for Shakespeare in the Park has every element of a successful show if you look at them separately. Setting a Shakespearean play in the modern day is never out of fashion and is probably the safest way to do it. Employing the Tony-winning director, Daniel Sullivan was a sure thing, the cast is well picked, and the scenic and costume design by David Zinn is minimalistic and elegant. Yet it didn’t land. Not that it didn’t come together, Troilus and Cressida, is a harmonious show with meticulously staged mise-en-scènes and smooth transitions made possible by the rotating and sliding of the 6 heavy panels of the back wall.    

Although featuring excellent work by every department, the production looks generic and stuck up. The show seems very distant and self-contained. This choice rarely produces epic tragedy/comedy (it’s been attributed differently but certainly the tragic element prevails) and although it seems intriguing, it is in fact strange. 

Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus

The story of the war the between the Greeks and Trojans continuing for 7 years has love and treachery, courage and ambition – everything that makes classics timeless. But some of the situations and character’s motivations don’t translate into today’s military, which created a deep dissonance for me. Bringing the action into the modern world, hinting on Iraq and Afghanistan, is therefore completely decorative and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste of a pretentious, self indulging, western theater.    

Public’s production of Troilus and Cressida features some aggressive audio-visual effects like smoke, explosions and gunfire. The helicopters cruising above Central Park were adding some extra sound effects, which was especially appropriate in the end of the final monologue of Pandarus (John Glover). As he limps away he looks up, and his laughter gradually dissolves into the helicopter sound. I love these “reality meets theater” moments. However there was a moment of reality picking through the theater in this production which I absolutely hated and I couldn’t collect myself for a long time after the show. 

The end of the second act has a long combat sequence, which opens up with soldiers creeping toward the front of the stage and then firing machine guns directly at the audience. I was sitting pretty far but the girl next to me screamed and my heart almost jumped out of my chest. Considering recent mass shootings, blank gunshots pointed directly at the audience are not something I would like to experience, even in the theater. The naturalism of the effect is unnecessary, the fact that they are shooting at you is unjustifiably traumatizing. 

With all that said, I still would say that Troilus and Cressida is worth seeing. Shakespeare in Central Park at Delacorte Theater is an important part of New York City theater landscape. As an established brand, it always has productions of high quality, talented performers and free tickets. Just make sure you grab a chair cushion from home because it’s not very likely that you will spend this three-hour show on the edge of your seat.                           

Public’s Troilus and Cressida runs through August 14th. As always, tickets for the productions of Shakespeare in the Park are free and can be acquired one of these ways: 
-    mobile lottery (Today Tix App)
-    in-person at Delacorte Theater at 12pm on the day of the performance
-    in-person lottery downtown at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place
-    Borough distribution
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