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Theater Review: ‘Troilus And Cressida’ rules at PSF

The 2017 season of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) has been a fight to the finish.

Think about it: “Evita” (fight for power), “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (death and detective work), “The Three Musketeers” (sword fights), “As You Like It” (wrestling), and “Troilus And Cressida” (also, wrestling, and the deaths of Hector and Patroclus).

“Troilus And Cressida,” in its debut at PSF through Aug. 6, Schubert Theatre, Labuda Center for the Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley, is challenging for actors and audiences. I won’t even begin to try to unravel the plot, which in way, a Shakespearean way, you might say, is somewhat beside the point. Suffice it to say it’s about the Trojan War. The July 28 opening night performance was reviewed.

Indeed, “the play’s the thing” and, in “Troilus And Cressida,” the actors rule. They get to play and then some. “Troilus And Cressida” is an actors’ tour de force. For its season-closer, PSF has pulled together many of its most seasoned professionals.

PSF has done so in a format whereby there’s no director (the actors, arrive off-book, i.e., with their lines memorized, and put up the show in about four days), no costume designer (the actors select from the PSF costume shop), no set designer (the set of “Hound” in the Schubert Theatre is utilized), and a modicum of lighting and sound effects.

While all the actors in the large “Troilus And Cressida” cast (20, by my count) are amazing, two are especially strand-outs: Susan Riley Stevens (dual roles of Calchas and the gender-switching Thersites, as well as delivering the play’s prologue), and Greg Wood (Ulysses).

Stevens is fearless, and really goes for it with a performance that plumbs her emotional depths. She doesn’t hold back, and leaves it all on the stage, literally.

Wood provides the play’s fulcrum of sorts, with hard-charging dialogue and a fierce stance and visage that is compelling and keeps the audience riveted whenever he’s on stage.

Brandon J. Pierce presents Troilus as eager and likeable, making the betrayal of Cressida (Mairin Lee, who manages to convey beguiling and betrayal without raising the audience’s hackles) all the more shocking.

Lindsay Smiling provides a provocative and captivating Agamemnon. Carl N. Wallnau plays Pandarus as a wise and foppish fool that evokes some of the play’s lighter moments. Anthony Lawton brings a forthright intensity to the role of Aeneas.

Luigi Sottile is especially memorable as Hector, at once solid and vulnerable. Andrew Goebel creates a worthy opponent in Ajax.

Other notable turns: Justin Adams as a diffident Achilles; Jacob Dresch as a sympathetic Paris; Eric Hissom in dual roles as Priam and Nestor; James “Bo” Sayre in the dual roles of Antenor and Menelaus; Peter Danelski as an energetic Patroclus; Keri Ann Moynihan as a gutsy Cassandra, and Ally Borgstrom, perfectly cast as Helen, convincing all why so many ships were launched.

It’s highly recommended that theater-goers attend the “Troilus And Cressida” pre-show Prologue by Dan Hodge (appearing in repertory in PSF’s “The Three Musketeers” and “As You Like It”).

If you’re a Shakespeare buff, and the rarely-performed “Troilus And Cressida” is on your theatrical bucket list, you don’t want to miss the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production.

Tickets: pashakespeare.org, 610-282-WILL (9455), ext. 1

PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZBrandon J. Pierce, left, and Mairin Lee, right, are Troilus and Cressida, respectively, in Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's production of “Troilus And Cressida,” through Aug. 6, Schubert Theatre, Labuda Center for the Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley.