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Review by Chad Jones for Oakland Tribune / ANG Newspapers

Love, war, satire abound in
Shotgun's `Troilus and Cressida'

By Chad Jones - STAFF WRITER

Bay Area parks are overrun with interesting Shakespeare productions this summer. Woman's Will is doing fantastic things with "Pericles," both the California Shakespeare Festival and the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival are having a go at "The Winter's Tale," and now Berkeley's Shotgun Players have dusted off "Troilus and Cressida."

None of these plays is among the usual diet of Shakespeare, and local audiences are all the better for it.

"Troilus and Cressida" is especially intriguing because it seems to have been so far ahead of its time. Written around the time of "Hamlet" and "Twelfth Night," "Troilus" remains something of a mystery because there is no evidence of the play ever receiving a production in Shakespeare's lifetime.

The assumption is that the play was simply too controversial, too oddly constructed for audiences of the early 1600s. In fact, the first recorded production of the play doesn't appear until 1898. For those counting, that's only 104 years ago.

In the hands of the capable Shotgun Players, "Troilus and Cressida" emerges as a bizarre, dark, occasionally beautiful play. The production, co-directed by Patrick Dooley and Joanie McBrien, is clean, straightforward and energetic.

In addition to titillating the "free Shakespeare in the park" audience, the production also completes an intriguing Trojan War trilogy begun with last summer's Shotgun park show, Euripides' "Iphigenia in Aulis." Last fall, in the wake of current events, Shotgun made a quick substitution in its December slot to make room for Jean Giraudoux's "There Will Be No Trojan War.'

' And now we get Shakespeare's take on one of civilized man's most celebrated wars.

Set in the seventh year of the 10-year conflict between the Trojans and the Greeks, "Troilus" is a shallow, unsettling love story as well as a scathing examination of empty valor and destructive heroics.

Unclassifiable in Shakespearean terms, the play is neither romance nor tragedy nor history. It's an experiment in form that takes advantage of an audience's familiarity with Greeks such as Achilles and Ulysses and Trojans like Hector and Paris.

A modern audience, like the one sitting in John Hinkel Park on Saturday afternoon, may not have all that information on hand. It's helpful to have a program, which will set you back a buck.

You practically need a scorecard to figure out who's who among the 16 actors playing 22 roles.

The most important thing to know is that the Greeks and Trojans are fighting for the sake of fighting. They talk a lot of blather about honor and justice, but really they're on a decade-long testosterone binge that has dulled them to the horrific reality of war.

The Greeks are consumed with ego-driven in-fighting, most of which centers around famed warrior Achilles (Mark Swetz), who spends most of his time in his tent with his lover Patroclus (Alan S. Quismorio).

Over in the Trojan camp, Hector (David Mayer) questions why they should still be fighting a war over the ridiculous Helen (Rica Anderson), whose abduction wasn't really worth the loss of so many Trojan and Greek soldiers.

The titular love story is interesting, but Shakespeare keeps us at a distance. Troilus (Tyler Fazakerley) and Cressida (Frieda Naphsica de Lackner) are two Trojans playing romantic games. He's lusty and earnest. She's circumspect and calculating - almost as if she's a regular reader of Cosmopolitan. They get together with the help of the yenta-like Pandarus (a lively Reid Davis), but then the war intervenes and the lovers are pulled apart.

There's no happy ending here. In fact there's no ending. We only know the play is over when an ailing Pandarus leaves us with these unappealing final lines: "Till then I'll sweat and seek about for eases, And at that time bequeath you my diseases."

At least the production is handsome enough. Mina Morita's triangular performance space walled off by hanging sheets creates an insular, colorless world amid the beauty of a park, and Valera Coble's basic costumes help us differentiate between Trojans and Greeks.

Sometimes beguiling - usually when Cressida speaks - and sometimes baffling - Myrmidons anyone? - "Troilus and Cressida" may not make a lot of sense, but it makes an impression and most certainly makes you go, "Hmmmmm."

You can e-mail Chad Jones at or call (925) 416-4853. If You Go William Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" Presented by: Shotgun Players Where: John Hinkel Park, Southampton Avenue between San Diego Place and Somerset Place, North Berkeley When: 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; closes Sept. 1 Tickets: Free Call: (510) 704-8210 or visit


Tuesday, July 30, 2002 - 1:43:44 PM MST

Original article on the web at,1413,82%257E1809%257E763755,00.html


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