A drum. A drum. The Bard doth come.
The Baltimore-based Chesapeake Shakespeare Company returns to Howard County this weekend and next with a workshop production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at the Howard County Center for the Arts' black box theatre in Ellicott City.
This will be the fourth Shakespeare play the ensemble has brought to Howard County, and this time the presentation is being billed as a "workshop project."
"This is a production designed to allow our younger actors to grow and stretch a bit," says Lesley Malin, the company's managing director. "Lights and costumes will be minimal, but we promise maximum effort from our actors. Low tech, but high drama."
Written in 1602 in between Hamlet and All's Well That Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida is one of the lesser-known works of the Shakespearean canon.
The Trojan War provides the play's backdrop.
Troilus, youngest son of Priam, king of Troy, has fallen in love with Cressida, daughter of Calchus, a Trojan priest who has defected to the Greek enemy.
Though helped by Cressida's uncle, Pandarus (whose name suggests the pandering for which he's famous in Shakespeare's story), Troilus does not wind up living happily ever after with his great love. Instead, she winds up with a Greek beau named Diomedes, which leaves Troilus a pretty disillusioned fellow ready for some serious violence by play's end.
Shakespeare also gives an unflattering look at Greek warriors such as Ajax and Achilles who, in between acts of violence, come off as arrogant twits if not utter fools. Such is the level of Shakespeare's cynical mockery of these reputed heroes that Troilus and Cressida often is referred to as a comedy or tragicomedy, despite the absence of any sustained mirth.
The play puts Shakespeare with the pessimistic playwrights of our own day: Nobody's perfect, heroes are losers, war is hell, and love isn't such great shakes either.
The role of Troilus will be played by Jonathan Judge-Russo, a student at Loyola College. Also anchoring the company's young and enthusiastic cast is Valerie Fenton, a Washington-area actress and regular troupe member who will play Cressida.
Directing the piece is Patrick Kilpatrick, an actor and teacher who has guided productions at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival in Kansas City, Mo.
No stranger to the other side of the boards, Kilpatrick has played Romeo, Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night and, outside the classical realm, Leo in Neil Simon's bittersweet comedy Chapter Two.
This workshop project in Ellicott City highlights the role the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is carving out for itself on the Howard County cultural scene.
"We deliberately picked this area because there wasn't any classical theater here," Malin says, "and we're gratified by the results. We've really grown."
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will present Troilus and Cressida at 8 p.m. tomorrow, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and at 8 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21 at the black box theatre in Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Tickets, available only at the door, are $10 and $5 for students. Information: 410-752-3994.