Classic play plus age-old poem equals infinite innovation

'T+C: A riff on Shakespeare, Troy and the War on Love' meshes texts and their themes

Katrina Wilber

Tales of young, tragic love are as popular as, well, “Romeo and Juliet.” But other stories of star-crossed lovers are often thrown aside in favor of the tearjerker about teenagers in Verona.

Just don’t tell that to artistic director Diane Mountford and the people of the Minnesota Shakespeare Project. Her play features the same themes while daring for a different structure.

“T+C: A riff on Shakespeare, Troy and the War on Love” combines text and plotlines from Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” and Homer’s “Iliad.” It’s still a story of love, a story of the cruelties of nature, circumstance and the hatred of men, but it also incorporates battle and choruslike scenes.

“There are title characters, but none are really lead characters,” said University theater major Chase Korte, who plays Troilus. “There are two plots going on at once, so it’s definitely an ensemble piece.”

Shakespeare’s tale of Troilus and Cressida is set in the midst of the war and destruction. Troilus, a Trojan prince, falls in love with Cressida, whose father is a Trojan priest who joins the Greeks in battle. Her father, however, trades a Trojan prisoner for his daughter and tears the lovers apart.

Ordinarily, the story of Troilus and Cressida might seem inconsequential when compared with the horrific scenes of battle and bloodshed between the Greeks and the Trojans. And the love story is clearly not a main focus of “Iliad,” as Troilus is dead by the time the poem begins.

“For me, though, it’s more about everybody’s individual struggle with the monster of war,” Mountford said.

In Mountford’s script, which combines Shakespeare’s and Homer’s story, some characters fight, some vow for revenge and others push for the saving grace of love.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the Trojan War and always wanted to do a theater project with it,” Mountford said, “especially since it still lives on in popular imagination thousands of years after it happened.”

Mountford decided to combine Shakespeare’s tale of love with Homer’s tale of war, but her main problem was trying to find a way to communicate the story to a modern audience. In some cases, she made cuts.

“It’s a story of chivalric love, of men jousting for their ladies and defending their honor, which is something we don’t see these days,” Mountford said. “It doesn’t fit in to where we are now as a society, so there was nothing there to communicate to an audience.”

A marvelous dichotomy between love and war, discussed in literature for thousands of years, sprouts too in this play. The loss of rational behavior in this conflict is summed up by Cressida in the wonderful words of Shakespeare when she says, “For to be wise and love exceeds man’s might.”

A love story set against a background of war and deception can show the rational and irrational traits of anyone – from a teenager in love to an embittered warrior. This is not to say, though, that Troilus and Cressida couldn’t have lived happily ever after.

“But given the circumstances of war,” Mountford said, “they’re doomed.”