Wooster or Webster? Troilus and Cressida

Dumbo, Brooklyn offers a wide variety of trendy, exciting and unique entertainment opportunities to New Yorkers. Its different art installments over the course of a calendar year, restaurants and of course, the amazing waterfront view that the Brooklyn Bridge Park offers makes it a hot leisure spot among the most intrigued of visitors. St. Anne’s Warehouse, which hosts numerous events and performances monthly, is home of one of Dumbo’s newest and oddest attractions: The Wooster Group’s performance of “Cry, Trojans!”, a long- workshopped adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Trilous & Cressida. This performance is altogether bizarre, in that only half the cast is present on stage, namely the Trojans, and the part of the Greeks is replaced by masks, video and other technological substitutions. Over the course of the performance, it sometimes became difficult to differentiate between the two rival “casts” and what it is that they are saying.

One of the techniques the creative visionaries behind “Cry, Trojans!”(and I call them visionaries because you must be one in order to have such an abstract on- stage interpretation of Shakespeare) used was creating a noise resonance when characters were delivering their lines. This type of echoing, repetitive feedback, coupled with booming bass made listeners unsure of what actors were saying or trying to say during the various scenes. This lack of understanding created by The Wooster Group’s sound system reflects the lack of clarity that exists in Troilus & Cressida as to where the play stands on its portrayal of love in relation to war.

The title of the original text tricks the reader into believing that they are reading another “love story” like Romeo & Juliet, and creates that expectation in terms of plot. However, it is not just the storyline of this other set of “star- crossed lovers” who command the attention of the audience in Troilus & Cressida, as intertwined & simultaneous to this love plot is the struggle for power and the victor of captors essential to the historically famous and well- known story of the Trojan war. The newer title of “Cry, Trojans!” gives this war- like connotation to the performance as it chooses to bring Cassandra ‘s warning of combat and chaos between Greeks and Trojans to the forefront of observers. As readers of Trilous and Cressida and as audience members, we sit and watch, finding ourselves unsure as to whether we follow the couple we know from the title, or the impending doom we know will arise from the prophecy. In the text of Troilus and Cressida there are instances where the romantic aspects of the play(or rather the lustful, as made by the shifty and shady Pandarus), experience a cross- over to the Greek/ Trojan rivalry and instances of murder and sabotage.

This melonge of these two themes is expressed with the help of the aggressive, confrontational staging and confusing sound system in Act IV Scene IV, when Diomedes convinces Cressida to be unfaithful to Troilus and says:

Fair Lady Cressid,
So please you, save the thanks this prince expects:
The lustre in your eye, heaven in your cheek,
Pleads your fair usage; and to Diomed
You shall be mistress, and command him wholly”,

this is a moment in which love and war collide( IV.IV.115-120). There is a conflict between being Cressida, “stubborn-chaste against all suit” or “as false as Cressid”(I.I.94, III.II.191). The temptations of flirtation and coquettishness for Cressida, as it was expected by a women of her time period to put up a fight or a war of her own by keeping the men guessing and her methods of “attack or surrender” unclear, were strong. Just as her sly uncle embodies these flirty characteristics in his own special, and altogether creepy way that lends itself to this unstable love, Cressida tactfully behaves or misbehaves in ways that confuse everyone, herself included.

Love in itself is a type of war- do you choose to protect yourself and not give in to emotional/ physical attraction, or do you let it take you hostage and claim you as a prisoner of war? The need to conquer, obtain and stake claim that both Greek and Trojans display in Troilus and Cressida is performed in this scene by Diomedes who wants to sleep with Cressida, who has become a traded- off prison of war herself, leads to a moment of confusion and uncertainty. Is Cressida this polite, proper young lady as seen amongst the Trojans, or is she in fact a loose floozy who uses her intellect to hide her true identity? What does this mean for Troilus and Cressida, the namesakes of our precious story? It is utterly uncertain in both the text and the performance by The Wooster Group as to what the end of Troilus and Cressida means. The two lovers never reunite or confront their broken union and there is no end in Troilus and Cressida to the Trojan war. It is unclear as to who has won the war, who has won the girl, and most of all, what trumphs all- love(lust?) or war? What social commentary is William Shakespeare trying to present to his audience about love and war? Are the different, are they the same thing, or do they exist in tandem with one another- can you not know hatred and motivation for war unless you know love and motivation for unity? “Cry, Trojans!” yields a plethora of questions with no definitive answers.

Perhaps what William Shakespeare is trying to say is that the understanding of love and war is up to the interpretations of the reader and the audience. In watching “Cry, Trojans!”, we have to do a lot of guessing as to what was just said and what just occurred. Just as The Wooster Group’s tech crew garbles up words and makes us confused as to what is said, we in our daily lives- whether in the 1500s or 2000s, we struggle and fail to differentiate the fine line between or merging of these two feelings. We don’t understand and we cannot tell; this leads to death, destruction, rivalry, and in truth, lose of love once it is finally recognized. Furthermore, at times one cannot tell whether it is love that is being experienced, or a lustful need for conquering territory and doing that which poses a risk. That which is potentially dangerous and looked down upon, much like war, brings out the danger and the wrong in us all. Love can do that too. I think that we will never truly know the roles of love and war. William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights of all time, could not make it clear to us in the 15th century, and even today in 21st century New York City we struggle to understand.

The over- idealized(and often shamed) “hook- up” culture of young, nightclub/ bar- hopping Big Apple 20- somethings is another place where both love and war are present- both literally and figuratively. Guys and girls flood dance halls and occupy bar stools, drinks in hand, unsure of what they’re there for or what they want. Are they trying to get drunk and “hook up” or enjoy a fun evening and “find love”? We have our friends being wingmen(Pandaruses) and trying to get us together, but for the sake of making out or actually dating? Do you give in to the flirting? Do you cheat on your boyfriend if you’re out partying with the girls and there’s a cute guy around? At times, young New Yorkers at parties get drunk and fist fight over guys and girls, everyone goes home drunk and tired, nobody gets anybody’s numbers and just goes home. What happens then? Is there ever a “hook- up”, did you miss your chance at “true love”? What happens to the people that get into the fights, where do their lives go the next day? It’s loud, it’s noisy, there’s booming bass, loud music, screaming… you don’t know what’s being said or, once you’re drunk or have had a few to drink, what’s going on. Perhaps this is a little abstract(as is fitting when talking about The Wooster Group) but sitting in on this theater company’s performance with all its craziness, background noise, video clips, flashing lights(and men in pants with no behind) felt a little like a night at Webster Hall, where when the bass booms you feel the floorboards shaking underneath your feet, just as your seat shakes from the audio in “Cry, Trojans!”.

Works Cited

“CRY, TROJANS! (Troilus & Cressida) | THE WOOSTER GROUP.” CRY, TROJANS! (Troilus & Cressida) | THE WOOSTER GROUP. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Shakespeare, William. Troilus and Cressida. Ed. David Bevington. London: Thomson Learning, 2006. Print.


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