(Also pertinent … Cry, Trojans (Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida), by The Wooster Group)
Just about the entire legend of the Trojan War is told — or at least “covered” — in The Age of Iron, from Paris’ abduction of Helen to the sack of Troy by the Greeks using their ruse of the “Trojan Horse,” all the way to the suicide of Ajax. Brian Kulick achieved this mainly by appending to Shakespeare’s play, which is focused on a short period toward the end of the war, the “beginning” and the “end” from another Elizabethan play, Heywood’s Iron Age. The Age of Iron is beautifully produced and you both hear the poetry of Shakespeare’s language and understand every word.
Even those Shakespearian idioms and figures of speech that are not current in today’s English make sense and have a strong impact as if suddenly one understood “Elizabethan,” a magic I can’t explain and that I found particularly rewarding about this production.
Was it effective to fit the whole story into one drama? There are pluses and minuses.
Homer begins the Iliad at a time late in the war and concludes it before the war’s end, as does Shakespeare in Troilus and Cressida. Paris doesn’t slay Achilles with an arrow to his heel in the Iliad, there’s no Trojan Horse, no sack of Troy, no vote among the Greeks over awarding Achilles’ armor, and no suicide of Ajax. In giving themselves a sharp focus, Homer and Shakespeare knew what they were doing — no surprise there — but there is great adventurousness and effect in Kulick’s telling of the story.
There’s a real satisfaction to getting the complete narrative, or most of it, under one’s belt in a single evening. And not unimportant, it’s genuine fun to see dramatized the source of those famous figures of speech we use all the time — “Achilles’ heel,” “Trojan horse” (though I’d liked to have seen the horse). On the other hand, in giving us the whole story, The Age of Iron loses some dramatic impact. The play is presented in two parts, and part 2, where many people start getting killed off, and eventually we leave Shakespeare and move into Heywood, becomes overlong and somewhat wordy.
Still, the heart of the excellently staged (on a field of sand), acted, and directed production is Shakespeare’s fascinating, perverse play, with his language at full sail. In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare turns on the tables on expectations. The great heroes turn out to be venial: Achilles doesn’t meet Hector in fair fight but pulls in his gang of Myrmidons to attack and kill him — and then takes full credit! Ulysses’ sophistry beats Ajax’ heroism. Troilus and Cressida’s pure love is sullied. Some call that “problematic,” but to watch the conflicts and interactions of these fully written and oh so human characters is intensely interesting. What a leap of imagination — the banquet where the leaders of the Greeks and Trojans agree to a truce so that for once they can drink and dine together, and can’t manage to keep the peace for the duration of a single evening!
Troilus and Cressida would have been enough to produce. A more ambitious and overarching choice was made. What would off-Broadway be if it wasn’t ready to fulfill new creative visions? One leaves this banquet fully satisfied.
The Age of Iron plays at the Classic Stage in NYC’s East Village through December 6th.