The roof at downtown’s Tenth Avenue Arts Center is so big that it could probably hold, like, most of Italy or something. If you were of a mind, you could even do plays up there — such is the configuration of nooks, crannies and angles that mark the stationary pieces and the myriad possibilities for seating.
If all the world’s a stage, this setting is at least a nod to the world’s fly spaces, however unsung.New Fortune Theatre Company announced plans for its next show at that very site as the culmination of a July 25 staged reading and so-called rooftop bacchanal catered by Meze Greek Fusion. The core event, held at the venue’s ground-level theater, featured a recitation of William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida — as much a nod to Bill’s sense of humor as to artistic director Richard Baird’s clout among established local artists. Jonathan McMurtry, David McBean, Jason Maddy, John Herzog, Jason Heil, John Tessmer, Baird himself: All were among a 24-member cast tasked with a 2 1/2-hour reading on the Trojan War’s seventh year, which finds the warring Greeks and Trojans squabbling among their own ranks and Greece’s Helen of Troy still held captive by Trojan prince Paris.
(Full disclosure: Popular thought says that Helen was held against her will; the fact is that she’d always had a thing for her captor. Heard it here first. Well, OK. Second.)
Paris and Trojan prince Hector will lose their lives in battle, heralding the destruction of love between Troy’s star-crossed Troilus and Cressida, the Greek victory over Troy and the whole Trojan Horse story. Before that, though, the officers and troops have a boatload to say about love, war and the wholesale speciousness of government.
A story like this is normally a dangerous choice of staged-reading fare, as the actors’ hands are tied. Not only are they limited to a single tool of self-expression; the piece’s epic sweep threatens to swallow the individual stamp, consigning it to a sea of vocal obscurity at the story’s expense.
That’s where director Baird — late of Poor Players, Oregon Shakespeare Company and Arizona Shakespeare — came in. His ear was his eye as he gathered the essential timbres, inflections and pitches to mark each player’s unembellished trail. Excitable Patroclus (J. Tyler Jones); officious Aeneas (John Herzog); blathering, hilarious Ajax (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper); edgy-sweet Cressida (Amanda Schaar); even-keeled Helen of Troy (Ally Carey); forthright Troilus (Maddy); stalwart Ulysses (Baird); liaison Pandarus (McBean, who stole the show as an attention whore in the manner of Oscar Wilde): The voice was the role, and to a person, everybody contributed accordingly and wonderfully.
Meanwhile, I bet Baird’s a musician of some kind. If he isn’t, he oughta be.
New Fortune’s next show, funded by the July 25 proceeds, is Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (“Dangerous Liaisons”), an adaptation of a novel centering on love and revenge amid the 18th-century French aristocracy. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is — it’s also a 1988 film starring John Malkovich and Glenn Close. The play was mounted on Broadway in 1987 and 2008 and will return there in October.
The New Fortune turn, a San Diego professional premiere, will open in January at San Diego Repertory Theatre in downtown’s Horton Plaza. Ticket prices and dates are to be announced; for further information, and for a closer look at the company, please do see newfortunetheatre.com.