With all their talk of kings and queens, and their heavy themes of immorality and revenge, the works of Shakespeare often come off as highbrow. But "Shakespeare is dirty," assures Crystal Carter, director at Theatre 'd Art.
So while you might not initially expect to see one of the bard's works in a TdA season, Troilus and Cressida actually suits the avant-garde troupe just fine. A lesser-known and rarely produced Shakespeare play set during the Trojan War, it's "considered a problem show," the 29-year-old Carter adds. "Lots of people consider it impossible to stage."
"This is the bitter, nasty, human version of a lot of his plays. This is sort of the realist side of Shakespeare," says Carter of the tragedy, which follows the disintegration of Troilus and Cressida's passionate love affair.
Many people believe Shakespeare wrote it when he was heartbroken, and that's why he seems to sabotage the famous royal characters, depicting them as lazy, buffoonish and vain. Achilles is even portrayed as gay.
"What's the worst possible way [in that time period] they could sabotage the greatest warrior in the world in history? They make him ridiculously proud, and they make him gay," says Carter.
People might consider that portrayal outlandish or even offensive, but in Shakespeare's time, it was downright unheard of.
Other themes are more contemporary; for instance, the play addresses issues like idealism versus cynicism, gender issues, homosexuality and the futility of war.
"The outlook of the play is super-modern for what people might think Shakespeare would be," says Jonathan Margheim, the 30-year-old co-founder and co-artistic director of TdA.
It makes for a show challenging not only for audiences, but the actors as well. They're keeping the Shakespearean language, for one thing. But the plotline also poses a challenge.
Instead of a classic Romeo-and-Juliet romance, you get a love triangle and confusion. Instead of a hero's tale, you get an unfinished conquest.
"Most people just don't think it's very satisfying," says Carter. "You have a lot of these arcs that just don't end the way that they would normally."
That helps make this play perfect for TdA. "It's the Shakespeare that's written for entertainment," says Carter. It's ripe with crude humor and gore, which is also what makes it fit in with the rest of the season.
"I was looking at an interesting season of blood," says Margheim. When planning TdA's season, he chose plays that featured violence in its different forms, from exploitation, to psychic violence, to outright violence, to the futility of violence in war, as found in Troilus and Cressida.
Plus, he says, "Bloody shows are always fun and cool."