November 28th, 2009

La Loge

The Age of Iron

There's going to be a lot of this over the next several days. "Nobody" is in town over Thanksgiving break, so TDF is chock-full of cool plays. Plus, we have friends with local family, who are in town, and ettling for some good theatre. Which we are delighted to provide.

Last night, it was a Professor of South American and Gay Literature and The Age of Iron at the Classic Repertory Company.

I'd have to call The Age of Iron a Frankenplay, or perhaps a simple stew: Take two parts Heywood and one part Shakespeare, dice fine, mix judiciously, mount handsomely, and serve up hot, on sand. In this case it was Troilus and Cressida and Iron Age (no, didn't know it either, although I probably read it in 1980 when I was working on my dissertation because I read everything in 1980). Troilus and Cressida is about lechery and war--and young love and disappointment and what nobility means. It's full of difficult and complicated poetry and complex emotions and spleen and interesting characters. The Iron Age (on available evidence) is about war and lechery--and noble sentiments and characters drawn from Morality Plays. It's full of rhyming couplets and some nicely-turned phrases (including "is the the face that launched a thousand ships," (which he definitely stole from Marlowe, since the play was written in 1632, but there's no shame in that--stealing from the best was the order of the day. Shakespeare did it constantly.)) and a lot of sententiae (potted moral statements), and a really good dying speech for Ajax. Put them together, you get a play about the whole course of the Trojan War, from the seduction of Helen to the fall of Ilium's cloud-kissing towers and the death of the whole cast except the doughty (and wily) Ulysses.

Yes, I enjoyed it. Lots. The production was very cool--a huge sand-pit, surrounded by audience and plexiglass sides with lights in them and red and white draperies on a framework above. The Trojans and Greeks were dressed alike in black doublets and slops and long boots. The women were all in sand colors, to blend in with the background and point up just how peripheral they really were to a war that was mostly about property and honor and the good, old-fashioned fun of a big, bloody fight. The acting was excellent (with the possible exception of Graham Winton as Agamemnon, who we saw in Man for All Seasons last year, and thought was weak there, too). Everybody could speak the verse and project--two quarrels I frequently have with Americans playing Shakespeare. Steven Skybell as Ulysses, Elliot Villar as Hector, and Steven Rattazzi as Thersites were particularly wonderful, managing to bring real human depth to the wiliness, nobility, and cynicism that dominate their characters.

Gotta say, though. I missed Pandarus. I liked the seduction of Helen and the expanded fight at the feast Priam threw for the Greeks, but the scenes at the end, though they completed the narrative, seemed anticlimactic after the harrowing death of Troilus. I just didn't care what happened to Achilles or Ajax or even Andromache--nobody had made me care enough for them, personally, to shed a tear at their deaths. And maybe that's the real difference between Heywood and Shakespeare. Heywood tried to make us care about them all, and succeeded mostly in deadening our response to the horror of war. Shakespeare made us care about two of them, and succeeded in making their tragedy stand for the general tragedy of war.

Now I have to go get dressed for brunch with more out-of-town friends, and a matinee of a play called Or. Which I'll tell you about tomorrow.