Always provocative, always tugging at the boundaries of the conventional, NYC based theatre collective The Wooster Group have never shied back from a little controversy. With their new piece Cry Trojans – a trimmed interpretation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida – some say they may have gone a step too far.
The Wooster Group’s newest production takes the original story, that of the sacking of Troy by the Greek armies, and focuses on Trojan side of the infamous War. Originally a co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company where the RSC played the Greek side of the battle, the piece now tours Europe with just the Trojans. However, this is not a war between two ancient civilisations in the classical era; Director Elizabeth LeCompte has recast and re-timed the story as the sacking of a 19th century Native American tribe by some feisty English colonists.
Artistic director Elizabeth LeCompte, one of the troupe’s founders, has mounted a production filled with classic Wooster themes. Beautiful and thought provoking costumes, spry choreography and a stellar soundtrack are the welcome returning elements. An important part of the show is a clever layering of voices which takes place as the actors speak their lines. While reciting and acting they simultaneously listen to and watch clips taken out of Native American films. Their intonation and movements are often directly synchronised with the material, thus they render Shakespeare’s archaic language in a certain stoic uniformity which characterises these particular films.
However, here is where problems arise. Some noise has been made about the troupe’s decision to represent the characters of this early 17th century play as Native Americans. The Wooster group actors are White women and men, and at times Cry Trojans feels more like a play-group game of Cowboys and Indians then a thought provoking confrontation with our innermost racist demons. LeCompte has faced criticism of the play by explaining she ‘just wanted to make something beautiful and poetic’, and though this production certainly is beautiful at times, it does not address any of the discomfort that might arise in the audience from watching it.
Add to that that Troilus and Cressida has always been a bit of a muddle: the text is obscure and not considered Shakespeare’s best by far. In Cry Trojans much of the Early Modern English text is hard to follow and the actors are relentless in their delivery. It is safe to say then that much of the show’s intentions, however well they may have been meant, are lost in translation.
Seen on 20/5 at Kaaitheater for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts