Love those trojans

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Through this Sunday, you can catch some prime Shakespeare up in Asheville – Troilus and Cressida – in an outdoor theater setting that meshes the old Globe from the Elizabethan Era with an amphitheatre hearkening back to the ancient Greeks. The Bard based his tragicomedy on Chaucer’s great medieval love poem and Homer’s Iliad, the greatest literary relic of the Trojan War.

I won’t add to the review of the Montford Park Players production I’ve already posted at Classical Voice of North Carolina, except to say that, if you go, consider T&C as Shakespeare’s meditation on love and war – and on how the code of chivalry is observed in both. Or not.

Just in case you don’t make it up to the mountains this weekend, I’m posting some photos here. They help illustrate a couple of things about a theater company that has operated in relative obscurity through 38 seasons.

Wide angle view of Montford Park Amphitheatre. Photo by Perry Tannenbaum.
  • Wide angle view of Montford Park Amphitheatre. Photo by Perry Tannenbaum.

They’re supported by the community, not just loyal theatergoers. Be it ever so humble, the City of Asheville built a home for the Montford Park Players way back in 1983, enlisting the “Seabees” of the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion to terrace the hillside facing the two-storey stage. Somewhat different philosophy from Charlotte’s. Here we build stuff and let our theater companies perform where they can. Why listen to what they want and need?

We tend to treat our Shakespeare companies like vagabonds if they quixotically decide to perform in Charlotte’s great outdoors. I remember seeing a Charlotte Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet in a flat paved lot outside an Uptown parking garage. Actors vied with the sounds of Tryon Street traffic, overhead aircraft, and construction, with frequent kibitzing from vehicles entering and leaving the garage. The atmosphere was hardly bucolic on the concrete, but the aridness was mitigated by the boxed dinners and the chicken bones strewn around the site.

Collaborative Arts has faced similar challenges staging its annual Charlotte Shakespeare Festival for the last five years. Spring or summer, their productions lie in the center of a sonic crossfire from Tryon and College Streets, including the traditional volley of motorcycle salutes, seasoned with the aircraft of yore and construction sounds that are finally subsiding with the completion of the Levine Cultural Campus and the NASCAR Hall. It’s far more bucolic on The Green, picnicking is no longer a redneck absurdity, but you can’t blame Collaborative for slapping a microphone on every actor with a line.

No matter where you perform, making yourself audible and intelligible shouldn’t be considered optional. In a quiet venue like the Montford Amphitheatre – with actors who bother to project – microphones aren’t necessary. The two-story stage and the sloping hill conspire to partially cup the sound in beneath an open sky, but as the daylight publicity shots confirm, the actors I saw up in Asheville frequently performed on the upper level of stage, projecting across the grassy moat beneath them. One photo shows the Montford’s Pandarus discoursing with young Troilus at the extreme right side of the vast stage, and another shows Pandarus way over to the far left. Both wings are significantly forward of center stage, but the distance they had to project across the audience to reach the top rows on the other side was even greater than the distance my straight-on view of stage and amphitheatre takes in.

David Mycoff as Pandarus extols the virtues of Troilus to Magdalen Zinky as Cressida. Dwight Chiles as Cressida's traitorous dad, Calchas, puts in his two cents. Photo courtesy of Montford Park Players.
  • David Mycoff as Pandarus extols the virtues of Troilus to Magdalen Zinky as Cressida. Dwight Chiles as Cressida's traitorous dad, Calchas, puts in his two cents. Photo courtesy of Montford Park Players.

So it was reassuring, after the scoldings I leveled at recent productions of The Piano Lesson at Pease Auditorium and Venus and Adonis at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, to find that it really isn’t too much to expect actors to make themselves heard. Moving forward to the second row at recently renovated Pease only helped slightly when I had a second opportunity to sample The Piano Lesson, and the boxagon where I couldn’t hear Adonis only has two rows. There’s no excuse. When Collaborative recently moved into McGlohon to do their Othello, they discarded the mikes and projected beautifully.

With a text is as unfamiliar as Venus and Adonis or Troilus and Cressida, it’s all the more important that we hear every word clearly. Hail to the mighty Greeks and Trojans who are getting the job done at Montford Park!

Like the Charlotte Shakespeare Festival, attendance is free up in Asheville, but when they call for donations, try to make yours generous.

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