Shakespeare Tavern’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’ leans on comedy, touches tragedy

The Atlanta production, which runs through Sept. 24, is one of the bard’s ‘problem plays.’

Credit: Nicholas Tycho Reed

Credit: Nicholas Tycho Reed

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

In Shakespeare Tavern’s current production of “Troilus and Cressida,” running through Sept. 24, almost everything is a delight, from the spot-on performances to the fast-paced, emotional sensibility that keeps the audience engaged and invested in the story.

While the pacing has its flaws, this is a top-notch production with equal measures of emotionally charged tension and side-splitting hilarity — and an arguably feminist message coded into its romantic conflict. If that firm tonal balance does not make the show worth seeing, trust that performances by Adam King and Antonia LaChe alone are worth the price of admission.

“Troilus and Cressida” has long been considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” or those that defy classical categorization. The play is not easily classified as a tragedy or comedy due to the fact that it swings wildly between bawdy comedy and dark psychological drama. Director Jemma Alix Levy has leaned more toward the comical for this production, ironically striking a balance that manages to tease out the central themes of the play.

Credit: Nicholas Tycho Reed

Credit: Nicholas Tycho Reed

The first act is admittedly slow and drags a bit around the midway point. However, the momentum that it does build is due primarily to the comedic stylings of King and LaChe, whose names will almost certainly stay with the audience. Both possess unerring comedic instincts and such an intrinsic understanding of the text that it is impossible for a single line to fall flat while in their capable hands.

King’s Pandarus is a breath of fresh air. And with King’s natural storytelling skills, what could be little more than necessary exposition becomes one of the most enjoyable sequences of the show. As for LaChe, her Thersites is an unrestrained and irrepressible force. Her ability to pull laughs is nearly as powerful as the all-or-nothing physicality that she brings to the character. It says a lot that in a production full of moving performances, the two of them manage to walk away with the show.

Claire F. Martin finds intriguing and relatable levels to Cressida, one half of the main romance. Her Cressida is confident and assured in public, only to collapse into nerves and self-doubt when faced with having an emotional, honest conversation with her lover Troilus. She is well-matched with Kenneth Wigley, who also played a moon-eyed lover in the Tavern’s “As You Like It” and shines just as much here. However, this time, he gets to bring more intensity to the part. His Troilus wears his heart on his sleeve, whether the scene calls for a declaration of love or a desperate, primal scream.

Benedetto Robinson and Tyshawn Gooden make a delightfully queer pair as Achilles and Patroclus. It is, at this point, heresy to portray the two as anything less than blatant life partners, but Robinson and Gooden also infuse them with a touch of queenly drama that really makes the chemistry between them sizzle, while avoiding making them feel too stereotypical. It is a testament to their chemistry that I found myself bemoaning that Shakespeare did not give them more scenes.

Credit: Nicholas Tycho Reed

Credit: Nicholas Tycho Reed

Another standout is Bailey Frankenberg, who plays multiple roles. She is at her dramatic best as Cassandra. (To be fair, it is difficult to turn in a bad performance when playing the tragic prophetess.) However, she appears to be having more fun as a rather sultry Helen of Troy. Vinnie Mascola gets some amusing moments as the proud but stupid Ajax. Mary Ruth Ralston and Cameryn Richardson are both commanding presences as Ulysses and Agamemnon.

All of these performances are bolstered by Levy’s keen direction, as well as what was no doubt some involved intimacy direction from O’Neil Delapenha, given how physical many of the characters are with one another. Credit must also go to Anne Carole Butler and Clint Horne for their costume design and Greg Hanthorn Jr. for his atmospheric lights.

Interestingly, it is the moments that are played for laughs that really help bring out the central theme of the play. “Troilus and Cressida” is ultimately about the pride of men and the destruction it wreaks. It is Menelaus’ wounded pride that sets off the Trojan War and the pride of the Greeks that leads them to continue the siege, even when they seem doomed to fail.

The production essentially has two modes, representing the characteristic extremes of comedy and drama that has so troubled scholars — a skewering of male pride interspersed with the romance of the two leads. The almost satirical portrayal of the Greek and Trojan soldiers gives us a framework with which to interpret the conflict between the two lovers.

Troilus’ pride and lack of faith in Cressida, seemingly motivated by negative self-image, fuels his rage at Diomedes, the Greek soldier that Cressida is forced to be with. Through this lens, the comedy and drama are not diametric opposites but rather two halves that feed each other, resulting in what feels like a unified whole.


“Troilus and Cressida”

Through Sept. 24. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. $20-$46. Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, 499 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-874-5299,


Luke Evans is an Atlanta-based writer, critic and dramaturg. He covers theater for ArtsATL and Broadway World Atlanta and has worked with theaters such as the Alliance, Actor’s Express, Out Front Theatre and Woodstock Arts. He’s a graduate of Oglethorpe University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Houston, where he earned his master’s.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


ArtsATL (, is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at