The difficult and highbrow critic Harold Bloom, who seems to believe that God gave us soul but Shakespeare revealed it, regards Troilus and Cressidaas Shakespeare's most difficult and highbrow play. It was never produced during Shakespeare's time, leading some to speculate that Shakespeare and company thought it would be a box-office bomb.
Based on the Insurgo Theater Movement's ongoing production of the play, the speculation was right. This is a gleeful skewering of Shakespeare, a less polished but certainly no less enthusiastic reconstitution of the Bard that the Los Angeles-based Troubadour Theater Company has grown so adept at performing throughout the years.
But nothing that director Russ Marchand and his hyper cast do—riffing on West Side Storyor Chicago,staging battle sequences to the song “Kung Fu Fighting,” or staging a never-ending death scene that only Rasputin could truly relate to—changes the fact that Troilus and Cressidais a boring, uninspired, rambling play. If erased from the Shakespeare canon, it would raise Shakespeare's reputation with everyone but Bloom.
Set during the Greek and Trojan wars, the play is two stories in one. There's the death of Hector, killed by Achilles and his men, and Cressida's betrayal of Troilus. What bearing these stories have on one another is unclear, and probably of no concern except to pitiable college students—to those students and Bloom, who celebrates a play “that defeats any wholly coherent interpretation.”
Because it's Shakespeare's shittiest play, it would seem open to the improvisatory nature of the staging that Marchand and crew have opted for. Dispense with any attempt to tell the story, divorce yourself from the need to invest the dialogue with meaning, and just tear it to pieces, using it as the barest template to do whatever the hell you want.
The problem is that Marchand does seem interested in the story. Instead of pressing his pedal to the metal and roaring through Shakespeare's script, he spends an awful lot of time trying to get us to care about the people on stage. How much time? Like three hours. And I don't care how funny dwarfs in big hats are, three hours is a long time to be trapped in a room with some of Shakespeare's most uninteresting characters spouting some of his flattest dialogue in his most uninspired story.
There are some yuks to be had, and the cast nearly sends itself into a collective seizure hammering this shapeless play into formlessness. But it does seem like an awful lot of work for a really small payoff. Marchand, and the talented people who chose to follow him down this particular road, deserve better than Troilus and Cressida.
Troilus and Cressida Insurgo Theater Movement, 4883 E. La Palma, Ste. 506, Anaheim Hills, 714-517-7798. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Though Dec. 14. $12-$15.