PSC presents two plays about Troy

Troilus and Cressida and Trojan Women will be at the Estates Theatre

The Prague Shakespeare Company (PSC) is presenting a double bill of plays about the Trojan War.

A new, modern translation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Euripides’ The Trojan Women will be performed at the Estates  Theatre on April 30. This follows up on their presentation of the new play An Iliad in January and completes the Trojan War cycle. But you don’t need to have seen the first play to enjoy the next two.

The topic of the Trojan War, which lasted for many years, remains relevant today as people again face conflicts that seen to have no end.

“We really get a modern perspective on it because Troilus and Cressida has a new modern English translation by [playwright] Lillian Groag,” PSC artistic director Guy Roberts said. Some 36 of Shakespeare’s plays are being rendered into a more accessible language as part of a project by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, funded by the Hitz Foundation. PSC will be staging the world premiere of the new translation.

“It will be hearing Shakespeare in a way you never heard it before because the language will be more accessible,” Roberts said.

He added that Troilus and Cressida is one of the least performed plays because of the difficulty of the original language. “This project is trying to bridge the divide between Shakespeare and today.”

Translator Groag said Troilus and Cressida are particularly difficult because large passages are missing. Also, several characters rely heavily on Elizabethan slang to hurl insults, and this is lost an anyone who is not a linguistic scholar. “Elizabethan slang doesn’t mean anything to us. You don’t get that punch of a guy threatening to make war on people, and that is what Shakespeare is going after,” she said.

Some of the slang references turned out to be quite vulgar, and that can have a big impact when it is restored to a scene.

“It’s a glorious modern play. [Shakespeare] takes the war in Troy and sets it on its head,” she added. Translating the play into modern language took six months, and some speeches took several days. The rhyme schemes and poetry forms have been preserved.

The undertaking of the double bill at the Estates Theatre is a large project for PSC. “We have over 45 people involved in it,” he said. Actors come from the US, Canada and Britain, as well as across Europe. “We have actors from all over telling this story that is really the foundational epic of Western civilization,” Roberts said, recounting the tale’s origins from Homer and before, back to 1200 BC, which is when some historians place the original events. “Troy in a way never goes out of style,” Roberts added.

To fit both plays into one evening, they have been cut a bit. The whole evening should be three and half hours, counting two intermissions. Original music for the plays was composed by Patrick Neil Doyle, and a Czech stunt team will be fighting in the battles. “There are three major battles and seven individual duels in Troilus and Cressida. So there is lots of fighting and music and pageantry… It is great entertainment.”

Rebecca Greene Udden of the Main Street Theater (MST) in Houston, Texas, is co-directing the two plays, along with Roberts, They will also be performed in Houston, as was An Iliad. The first part of the trilogy was well-received there, she said.

Some European actors are used to a different style of directing, with more rehearsals and a bit less freedom to create their own characters. “In Europe, it is a very director-driven process,” she said. “In America, the actors bring a lot from the get-go.”

So for some actors, the relatively fast preparation is more intense than they are accustomed to.

She also works closely with the non-native speakers on pronunciation to make sure the plays are comprehensible, and looks after the small details of performances, while Roberts is more concerned with the overall vision and big picture.

She is impressed with the new version of Troilus and Cressida and finds it much easier to understand than the original. Trojan Women is much more straightforward, she added.

The version of The Trojan Women they are producing adds some bits from the seldom-produced Euripides play Hecuba to bridge the time gap.

Udden has seen shows at the Estates Theatre, but this is her first time directing one there. “I have never been on a stage that big,” she said.

Karel Heřmánek Jr. and Laura Baranik are returning from New York to star in Troilus and Cressida. Czech National Theatre actress Jana Pidrmanová will be performing as Helen of Troy in English for the first time in Trojan women.

Lane Davies, who appeared in the TV shows Seinfeld and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Gregory Gudgeon, who has extensive stage experience in London, are also in the cast.

American actor Irwin Appel plays Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida. He is looking forward to being at the Estates Theatre. “I cannot wait to take a picture of the plaque on the stage saying Mozart stood here,” he said.

Appel studied acting at Julliard and now teaches at University of California, Santa Barbara. He has performed all across the US including Off-Broadway and in Shakespeare plays in New York’s Central Park. This is his first time on a stage in Europe, though he has led workshops and classes here.

He has been impressed by the approach to Shakespeare that he has seen on stage in Prague and in Germany. “They were really life changing to me. I loved the freedom and the excitement and the ideas. It is very exciting to me what is going on,” he said.

He came back to Prague just to participate in the PSC production of Troilus and Cressida and likes the mix of acting styles and backgrounds. “I am thrilled to be in a melting pot with people for whom English is not their first language. … I love this coming together of cultures in Shakespeare,” he said.

“We sometimes are too reverential of Shakespeare. Instead, I like what the Europeans are doing to it. There is a daring to it. I believe in this very much. I wish there was more of it. I’m not interested in doing stuff that belongs in a museum,” he said.

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