Philly Fringe reviews: ‘Troilus and Cressida’ and ‘Plunge’

The cast of Revolution Shakespeare's

The cast of Revolution Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida." (Supplied by Revolution Shakespeare)

Troilus and Cressida

The prospect of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” is enough to make some theater artists run the other way. It’s the combination of two distinct plots. One is a romance between Troilus (a son of the king of Troy) and Cressida, a Trojan woman. The other plot concerns the ongoing war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Shakespeare blends the two tales when Troilus hands over Cressida to the Greeks in a sort of hostage swap between the warring parties. Then everything becomes a tragedy, classically.

In fact, the Bard’s later work is so tough to pin down, scholars disagree on whether it’s a history, tragedy or romance. The war overwhelms the romance line, but Revolution Shakespeare is marketing it as a romance — my guess is that it’s far easier to draw people to a love story than to one that kills off everything in sight at the end. But audiences will come to Revolution Shakespeare’s production in South Philly’s Hawthorne Park in any case. This is the company’s fifth Fringe production in the park — one a year for the past five — and the shows are community events with wider draws, staged inside the pleasant park at Catharine between 12th and 13th Streets in the middle of residential blocks.

Brenna Geffers directs an all-woman cast in this male-dominated play, which she presents in an adapted version that’s well composed. The script keeps Shakespeare’s most beautifully written passages and edits out much of the muddle that makes “Troilus and Cressida” tough to read, let alone to stage. I was impressed by the fighting in the second half, sometimes with swords and other times with hands that only seemed to hold swords; the excellent fight choreography is by Jacqueline Holloway. And the crystal sound design — once a problem for Revolution Shakespeare in a park with the many competing sounds of everyday life — is by Daniel Ison and engineered during performances by Brad Pouliot.

The clear delivery by the actors, as they move effortlessly around a corner of the park in Geffers’ blocking, is impressive. So is the fact that it doesn’t matter that Jessica Johnson is the warrior Hector, Colleen Corcoran is Achilles, Meg-Rumsey-Lasersohn plays Troilus, D’Arcy Dersham is Ulysses and Donovan Lockett is Patroclus, Achilles’ bromancer and in Shakespeare’s assertions, more.  After all, for so long men played all the female roles, so the swap makes sense. Besides, these and the other actors (Niya Colbert, Tai Verley, Kelly McCaughan, Katherine Perry as the highly unpolished Ajax, Sol Madariaga and Dana Kreitz as Cressida) believably build the characters through their portrayals.That, for this particular play, is no walk in the park.

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“Troilus and Cressida,” produced by Revolution Shakespeare, runs through Sept. 22 at Hawthorne Park, on Catharine Street between 12th and 13th Streets. 

Plunge

Inside a big pop-up patio in Center City, directly under a raised rail bed that once carried commuter trains, one of the Fringe’s most consistent producers is re-creating a goof of the ’60s. He’s Brian Sanders, who runs the dance company JUNK, and these are not exactly the ‘60s I remember. That’s because Sanders’ show “Plunge” is set some time after the year 2060, so we’re looking at an era a century or so in the past, the way anthropologists might.

“Plunge” is a live mockumentary. Its narrator tells us the show is presented by the Ministry of Aesthetic Embellishments, “a leading sustainablism excavation site dedicated to advancing research, education, and public engagement in anthrotropic artifactuals.“ That means a setting of patio furnishings and swirling lights and dances that show us what the “age of plastics” must have been like.

“Make sure to stop by the fossil bar for an authentic tonic of the age,” says the narrator in a dry British accent, and that’s no joke. A far side of the patio is outfitted with a bar, not part of the admission price for the show, and open before and during the hour-long run. The show lasts a little over an hour and is divided into three parts of narration and dancing, with Amanda Connor go-going during the breaks.

The three dancers who perform Sanders’ choreographed moves in each segment are Laura Jenkins, Alyssa Kennedy and Rimaj Todd — they play with huge beach balls under colored lights, twist around on chaises, boogie on a raised stage over the middle of the patio, bungy from the girders of the higher rail bed and swirl in tubs for water dancing. There’s plenty of bippy shaking along the way. “Plunge” has much more of a backstory than Sanders usually creates in his acrobatically-infused and racy dances for a larger troupe. It’s fun to hang loose in his version of the era … if you dig my drift.

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“Plunge,” produced by Brian Sanders’ JUNK, runs through Sept. 22 at the Patio at Spring Arts, N. 10th and Hamilton Streets. 

The Philly Fringe Festival runs through Sept. 23. For more information: fringearts.com.

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