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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Light Drizzle
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Steamy and intense, Troilus and Cressida is a fitting finale for American Players Theatre's outdoor season
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Laura Rook and James DeVita in American Players Theatre's <i>Troilus and Cressida</i>
Laura Rook and James DeVita in American Players Theatre's Troilus and Cressida
Credit:Carissa Dixon

Some call Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida a "problem play" because it doesn't fit into one of three neat little boxes: tragedy, comedy or history. Box or no box, this wartime love story presents no problems for American Players Theatre. Riveting and intense, Saturday night's performance at the Up-the-Hill Theatre was stellar.

The Trojan War serves as the backdrop of Troilus and Cressida. Troilus, a Trojan prince, has fallen head over heels for Cressida, whose father has defected to the Greek camp. Encouraged by Pandarus, Cressida's uncle, the two confess their love to each other. They share their vows and consummate their relationship just halfway through the play, which leaves plenty of time for things to go wrong. And things do go wrong -- tragically, tragically so.

Nate Burger portrays passionate Troilus with deep sincerity, and Laura Rook makes a lovely and relatable Cressida. James DeVita showcases comedy and tragedy within the confines of his character: Cressida's sickly and slightly creepy uncle Pandarus. On opening night, he delighted the audience with goofy antics while singing a song to Helen of Troy (Ally Carey) and her Trojan lover, Paris (Michael Perez). La Shawn Banks is sharp as feisty Thersites, who, amid jester-like foolery, offers social commentary.

Burly men with bare chests and wild hair dominate the stage. As Hector, Marcus Truschinski is passionate and heroic. On the Greek side, dimwitted strongman Ajax (Michael Huftile) pleases the crowd by grunting his words and flexing his muscles. Nathan Hosner is perfectly cast as regal Agamemnon.

Sex saturates the script, and director William Brown isn't afraid to let things get saucy onstage. While some moments are subtle, such as Helen rubbing lotion on an exposed ivory leg, others are downright hot. Take, for instance, lovers Achilles (Eric Parks) and Patroclus (Samuel Ashdown). More interested in making love than fighting a war, they entrance each other -- and the audience -- with a surfer-dude-meets-stoner vibe. (In the movie version, I'd cast James Franco and Owen Wilson as these two characters.)

Troilus and Cressida is visually stimulating as well. The Trojans shimmer in light-catching fabrics, and the Greeks sport earthy shades of red. Exotic linens become beds and curtains as torches and small fires warm the outdoor stage where the plot unfolds. Battle scenes are terrifying yet beautiful to behold. Fight Director Kevin Asselin keeps the action crisp and easy to follow. The movements are dancelike yet realistic -- and magical, too.

Though Troilus and Cressida spans more than three hours, the time commitment is totally justified. This production envelops the audience in thrilling battles and plenty of steamy scenes. Though not easily labeled, it's challenging, compelling and surprisingly modern -- in other words, a spectacular finale to APT's outdoor season.

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