Troilus and Cressida
Through Nov. 4
"Troilus and Cressida" may be the mother of all Shakespeare's "problem plays," with its unclassifiable mix of farce, romance, tragedy and fierce satire. Adapted from the well-known sources of Homer's "Iliad," Boccaccio's "Il Filostrato" and Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde," all dealing with the conflict between the Greeks and Trojans, Shakespeare creates a deeply layered drama displaying the ironic vagaries of love and war.
Director Rob Melrose and designer Michael Locher have concocted an atmospheric modern setting derived from the looting of the Baghdad Museum during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Greeks and Trojans have been fighting for seven years over the abduction of Helen (Brooke Parks) by Paris (Ramiz Monsef). Both sides have tired of the fighting, questioning whether the bloody cost is truly worth the prize.
Melrose has assembled a deep, rich cast led by Barzin Akhavan's Pandarus, the lord who comically facilitates the romance between the hesitant lovers Troilus (Raffi Barsoumian) and Cressida (Tala Ashe).
Adding complexity to the story are Kevin Kenerly's resolute Diomedes, who also falls in love with Cressida, Bernard White as the war-weary Hector, Michael Elich as the bitter commentator Theristes and Elijah Alexander as the dense warrior Ajax.
Most actors play several parts, and there are no weak performances in this standout production.
Through Oct. 12
Director Joseph Haj's starkly effective "Henry V" shows the young king wielding his newly gained power with a dark and wholly unsentimental focus. Using a mainly black, white and dark gray costume and scenic palette, this taut history play pushes King Henry V into the ranks of English legends.
The excellent John Tufts' Henry coolly turns his back on a dissipated youth and the clueless remnants of the bar-crawling crew he was once so thick with as he takes his place on the throne.
The most popular play of Shakespeare's second history tetralogy completes Henry's transformation while we see the many disparate qualities necessary to be king. Henry becomes a calculating politician, an inspiring leader and, finally, an ardent lover, all to accomplish his goal of taking back land from France.
Tufts inhabits the role of king with strong support from Shayne Hanson as the Duke of Gloucester, Brooke Parks as Katherine, Princess of France, and Daisuke Tsuji as the provocative Lewis the Dauphin, heir to the French throne. Onstage percussionist Kelvin Underwood adds insistent, moody textures to the production.
The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa
Through Oct. 13
Alison Carey's contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's popular though slight comedy has an amiable television sitcom feel to it. Set in a very modern Windsor, Iowa, David Kelly's Nixonesque Sen. John Falstaff has just lost the Iowa caucuses and his presidential hopes are squashed. Hoping to recapitalize his political fortunes, Falstaff takes amorous aim at a couple of well-heeled Windsor wives.
Carey, with director Christopher Liam Moore, create an Iowa where same-sex marriage is the preferred social construct and the state fair with its iconic butter cow sculpture has a holy presence among the locals.
Through Nov. 3
Two 1/2 Stars
I wanted to like "Party People" so much more than the jumbled, histrionic production would allow. The high voltage set-up of the play a reunion of former '60s political activists, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords devolves into a mostly schematic, sketchy high-energy jumble.
In many ways a throwback to the political spectacle plays of the times it represents, "Party People" bristles with a generic anger at that catch-all villain, the Establishment. Through several fine individual performances we're told stories of the old days, what people were fighting for and why, but the history lessons never coalesce into engaging drama even as potent as some of the stories are.
Created by the theater collective UNIVERSES (Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and William Ruiz) using music, poetry and dance movement, "Party People" has so much going on that nothing really happens. The program information on the characters suggests complexities of relationships the production never comes close to exploring.
Mainly a series of linked individual riffs, the play's simplistic ideas are heroically buoyed by compelling performers, elevating the often melodramatic material. Overlong and repetitive, the best parts involve young contemporary characters played by William Ruiz (exhibiting excellent MC skills) and Christopher Livingston, whose hopeful character wants respect from his imprisoned father.
As You Like It
Through Oct. 14
Three 1/2 Stars
Director Jessica Thebus crafts an elegant and elegiac version of "As You Like It." With ethereal sentinels (Mandie Jensen, Liisa Ivary, Catherine Coulson and Kimberly Scott) creating lush vocal soundscapes, the production flows with gentle sensuality.
The two lovers Erica Sullivan's unjustly banished Rosalind and her soulmate, Orlando de Boys (Wayne T. Carr) find each other in the forest of Arden, which houses numerous other misfits as well. Kathryn Meisle makes a wry, languid Jacques and Peter Frechette an erudite Touchstone in this charm-filled production.