The Porters’ Troilus and Cressida

The cast of Troilus and Cressida. Photo: Rob Cunliffe

Many a man has gone to war in defense of his honor, his principles, or his sense of duty to a greater good…though greed, hate, lust, and revenge have certainly lured their fair share into battle. Whether carefully planned or impulsively entered, every battle exacts a price that cannot be foretold. It also hides a multitude of sins that cannot be undone.

In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare uses the Trojan War as a vehicle to satirize the very nature of war and its ability to make fools out of its heroes. He holds up to the light the shining armor of a man’s character and slowly pierces it until the corruption that lies at his core bleeds out in a sickening display. But then, no one ever said war was pretty, and a battleground littered with the broken bodies of fallen warriors cares not why the fighting began. It only requires its certain payment.

Shakespeare’s play begins seven years into the Trojan War with both sides weary of battle. The Greeks are camped on the shores of Troy fighting for the return of Menelaus’ beautiful wife Helen, who has been kidnapped by Paris (son of King Priam of Troy). Troilus, Paris’ younger brother, feels that the war is a foolish one and is instead concerned with wooing the seemingly disinterested Cressida; a match encouraged by her questionable uncle Pandarus. As the story unfolds, deals are made, rules are broken, and Troilus tragically falls victim to his own impassioned jealousy.

What do director Charles Pasternak and The Porters of Hellsgate do with this challenging “problem play?” The answer is, quite a lot. Opening with an alarming intensity amidst utter stillness, and ending with the seemingly pointless decimation on a deconstructed battlefield, they show just how much a theatre company can accomplish if the text and intentions and story are clear. Pasternak’s fight choreography is electric in the intimate space and when Achilles (Matt Calloway) and Hector (Napoleon Tavale) finally have at it, they turn into a two-man tornado, bare muscles flying and leaping from the walls at a tempo that will leave you breathless.  

Though love may not be able to transcend the limitations of its circumstances here, and there is some inconsistency among the players, its title roles are well-served.  Alex Parker’s Troilus changes from idealistic romantic to misguided soldier convincingly and his Cressida, played by Taylor Fisher, is a passionate woman who artfully adapts to a man’s world in which she has no say. One of her best moments happens when she is traded to the Greeks and finds herself alone with the men for the first time. Danger or safety…it could go either way, and you can see it in her eyes. Plus, both she and Eliza Kiss (gorgeous as Helen) have a lovely richness to their voices that lends depth to their respective characters.

For my money though, the thinking man’s performance goes to Thomas Bigley as Ulysses. In contrast to the boisterous vulgarity of the fighting men, he plays his cards with care; the wheels ever turning as he calculates the best way to achieve success. 

Technical aspects are appropriately sparse yet effective for an intimate theatre like The Whitmore. Nicholas Neidorf’s score adds a layer of subtle tension that lingers in your psyche behind the action in all the right places, and Sterling Hall’s lighting design plays up the variations in mood. The choice to contrast the Greeks and Trojans consistently with the style and color of their costumes – browns and earth tones for the former, black leather for the latter – makes it easy to track characters. Even the black bodice of Helen’s gown marks her pointedly as “property of” Troy.

The Porters’ Troilus and Cressida runs through February 19 at The Whitmore Theatre, 11005 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets go to   


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