For 24 summers, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has developed a devoted following who’ll sit through rain, fog and oppressive heat.
When the bombs began bursting in air shortly after intermission of the opening night of “Troilus and Cressida” last weekend, the show stopped and the crowd took up positions along the bluff to watch the display.
When the last shell exploded, the show resumed with a few fireworks of its own.
“Troilus and Cressida” — Shakespeare’s satire on love and war set during the Trojan War — is now in repertory at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison.
When the action starts, the Trojan War has been going on for years and nobody’s heart seems in it.
In Troy, there’s talk of just giving Helen back to the Greeks to send them packing.
Meanwhile, in the Greek camp, Achilles is sulking in his tent with his boy toy Patroclus. The great Greeks Agamemnon, Ulysses and Nestor are reduced to playing a sort of parlor game to draw him out, declaring Ajax their mightiest warrior to spur Achilles’ ego into action.
Imagine Henry V doing that.
In the play’s other story, the title characters, Troy’s Prince Troilus (Matt Amendt) and his love, Cressida (Eleanor Handley), are brought together by her matchmaking uncle, Pandarus, played with gusto by Stephen Paul Johnson. Here is a character with the enthusiasm so lacking in those of the warrior class.
Troilus and Cressida need little prompting. Apparently, they’ve loved each other for a while but haven’t acted on it.
These new lovers run hot and cold. When Cressida’s father, a defector to the Greeks, arranges for his daughter to be given to a Greek officer in exchange for a Trojan prisoner — Troilus weighs the wisdom of challenging the order.
“Is it so concluded?” he asks. When he is told that his father has approved it, his immediate response isn’t concern for Cressida.
“How my achievements mock me!” he says.
Imagine Romeo saying that.
Cressida refuses to go, but go she must.
Warned by Troilus to resist the wiles of the Greek soldiers and remain true, she turns his warning back on him: “My lord, will you be true?” she asks.
Imagine Juliet saying that.
These are clever, thinking folks, but their thoughts — with the exception of the noble Hector, played deftly by Wayne T. Carr — are first of self.
Is it any wonder that the play’s narrator — the dirty, deformed Thersites, played to perfection by Jason O’Connell — despises everyone?
In casting HVSF regular Wesley Mann as Agamemnon, king of the Greeks, and Priam, king of the Trojans, director O’Brien suggests all kings are cut from the same cloth.
Ryan Quinn’s Achilles is a pouting warrior more inclined to recline in his tent with Patroclus than to rise to battle. If historians debate Achilles’ sexuality, the issue seems settled here.
Handley’s Cressida is by turns fiery, coy and resolute. Her speech railing against the deal her father has made is heartfelt and heartbreaking.
Amendt’s Troilus is likewise a jumble of emotion, giddy at meeting his love, jealous at seeing her adapt to the Greek camp, foaming at the death of his brother, Hector.
In a Hudson Valley Shakespeare tradition, O’Brien adds lip-synced musical numbers to the action that speak directly to character. Both songs feature Lisa Rinehart’s excellent choreography.
There is, of course, sword play here, with much of the play’s final 20 minutes involving long entrances and exits as Trojan and Greek chase each other through the tent at Boscobel, where the festival holds forth.
“Troilus and Cressida,” expertly acted and directed at Boscobel, is a fine diversion for a summer evening.
Because its lovers don’t die, it is considered a Shakespearean comedy. But the title characters end apart, their love lost.
The battle is concluded, the war still in doubt. There’s still the matter of that large wooden horse. But that is left to Virgil’s “Aeneid,” not to Shakespeare.
If it has an incomplete feel to it — and it does — the fault lies not in its stars but in its playwright: Shakespeare failed to tie up the loose ends.
“Troilus and Cressida”
Where: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Route 9D, Philipstown.
When: Now open. Running in repertory with “The Taming of the Shrew” and “The Bomb-itty of Errors.” Festival closes Sept. 5. The playing schedule is on the festival website.
Tickets: In July and September, $32 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, $38 on Fridays and Sundays, $45 on Saturdays. In August, $34 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, $40 on Fridays and Sundays, $47 on Saturdays.
Top photo by William Marsh: The warring Greeks and Trojans enter.
Second photo by William Marsh: Eleanor Handley, Matt Amendt and Stephen Paul Johnson.