Half Baked and a World of White

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

CRY TROJANS! (Troilus and Cressida), The Wooster Group's world Premiere at RedCat is not their best work.

Now the very fact that I can say that in Los Angeles for a company based in New York is a remarkable testament to the commitment of RedCat but more on that in a minute.

First let's tackle the play.

Cry Trojans! began as co-production of Troilus and Cressida with the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the 2012 Olympic World Shakespeare Festival. The conceit was to take Shakespeare's problematic play chronicling the Trojan War and split it down the middle. The Wooster Group would play the doomed Trojans and the Brits would play the Greeks. Two casts with two directors creating a transatlantic mashup up leaving "the seam" between the two "rough."

Conceptually, one can imagine the stylistic divide between the staid RSC and the technologically adept Wooster Group creating a thrilling juxtaposition . . . but judging from the British reviews, the chemistry was more jarring than thrilling.

Fast forward two years and Cry Trojans! is the Wooster Group's solo take on that production. They've replaced the British actors with masks and, of course this being the Wooster Group, recorded British accents that they more or less bring to life. They still play the Trojans in a pastiche of Native American garb and tribal dances.

I don't want to suggest that the history of the production explains everything but it helped me contextualize what felt like an oddly unbalanced and incomplete work by a company I typically adore.

Take the Native American setting - I can imagine, again conceptually, that as an American theater company about to perform as part of an Olympic Festival of Shakespeare, embracing our own doomed Troy besieged by invaders - made a certain bold-stroke political sense. Robbed of that original context, the setting, teepee and all, feels like a bit of graduate school cultural appropriation. When we see the lacrosse sticks as weapons, we get the inside joke - yes the Indians invented the game - but what does this have to do with the play? Sadly, that question was the one constant throughout.

All that said, The Wooster Group's multi-year residency at RedCat is a remarkable achievement and a model for other theaters and presenters. Getting to know a company 'warts and all' is a rare gift in today's American Theater. It's easy to sit back and cherry pick the best plays or the most lauded productions, far more daring and meaningful is to commit to providing a company the space to develop work over time. We can quibble over RedCat's support of LA artists but what's undeniable is their commitment to artists.

Jumping across town, if you have a two to five year old who you'd like to enchant with a beautiful piece of theater - don't miss White at The Wallis. Created by a Scottish company, White resists the pitfalls of youth theater: you know, the over-emphasized broad caricature and over the top melodramatic emotions. In their place, a wonderfully clean aesthetic and a simple story told visually that magically kept a group of toddler's engaged for 45 minutes!

CRY TROJANS! (Troilus and Cressida) plays at the RedCat downtown through this Sunday, March 9.

White plays at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills through March 23.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Cry Trojans! running time: 2 hours with one intermission. White running Time: 45 minutes with no intermission

Banner image: Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd in Cry, Trojans! (Troilus & Cressida) by The Wooster Group with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Photo by Hugo Glendinning