Theater archives

Life Is Not Beautiful


Whether the Andrei Serban­Elizabeth Swados Fragments of a Greek Trilogy (La MaMa) can be regarded as seminal is debatable, although when it debuted 25 years ago it seemed as if it would be. A deconstruction/reconstruction of Sophocles and Euripides, the three-part piece hasn’t influenced as many subsequent works as might have been expected— though Ariane Mnouchkine has mined the vein. No matter: this drama-music-dance amalgam by the Great Jones Repertory Company remains a superior theater event, both reflective of its time and timeless, as its creators— who perhaps have never topped these results— clearly planned.

Viewed now in a meticulous remounting, The Trojan Women and Electra have their strongest combined effect as an outcry against the oppression of the female. (Medea was not seen for this review, but undoubtedly confirms the theme.) While the roaming audience is buffeted by the relentlessly surging players during The Trojan Women, the defeated figures are taunted singly and in groups. Indelible images of subjugation succeed each other as Serban employs the conventions of Greek theater and overturns them. (One of the most horrifying sights is a corpse slowly sinking down a chalky ramp.) During Electra, the audience sits on either side of the playing area as the beset daughter mixes grief with madness over the family’s afflictions— Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon and Orestes’s long, ominous absence.

Though the performing in both plays is highly emotive, the heightened passions in The Trojan Women strike deeply, whereas in Electra they inexplicably distance the players from the spectators. Among the possessed actors, some— Neal Harris, Paul Harris, Valois, Perry Yung— appeared with the original cast and some— Mia Yoo, Kim Ima, Charlie Hayward— are new. In Greek, with no subtitles necessary. — David Finkle

Mouthing Off

“I thought about how I could drag mime into the 21st century, and it turns out the answer is sound,” drawls Shane Dundas, one half of the Umbilical Brothers, a matching suspender-and-tank-topped pair of Australian shtickmeisters who got their start on Star Search down under. Dundas is a walking Foley studio of sound effects, which he performs on an overjuiced microphone. His partner David Collins is an equally gifted physical comedian. These questionable talents, performed to their absolute limit, combine to form an occasionally amusing but unflaggingly sophomoric show called Thwak (Westbeth Theatre). As Collins moves a microphone around his body, Dundas makes noises intended to correspond to Collins’s interior workings— his dick whimpers, and the two chipmunks that control his brain make a speedy getaway. There’s a running gag about sending an invisible dog off to fetch a stick. The guys go behind a screen and perform a dumb hand-ballet to Pachelbel’s Canon. Then they do a bit in which Collins tries to kill a fly of extraordinary strength. Playing up their rivalry, in which whoever holds the mic controls the action, the two stage an elaborate horse race sequence that would be brilliant if you hadn’t seen so much of the same idea already. Their routines mix mime with cartoon violence and pop-cult references, yet there’s little attempt to interpret or transcend their influences, just a desire to re-create them, as with the light-sabre battle they lift from Star Wars more or less intact. But one shouldn’t assume that when a mime speaks, he’ll have something to say. — James Hannaham

Ash the World Turns

Combining theatrical styles in a wacky fashion has been the Adobe Theatre Company’s usual routine, but their latest work, Meanwhile, on the Other Side of Mount Vesuvius (Ohio Theater), seems hopelessly stuck between genres. The situation of jealous artists living under Mount Vesuvius just before the devastating eruption of 79 A.D. is worthy of Mel Brooks. But not only does this cartoon drama, written by company member Jay Reiss, keep forgetting to be funny, it makes the fatal mistake of trying to be occasionally profound and serious.

Denying that the recently turned-up Flavius (Gregory Jackson), a young man with a goiter the size of an onion, is his son, Taverus (Arthur Aulisi) cares only about making sure that his Scottish, gimp-legged slave Thomas (Henry Caplan) buries all 39 volumes of his magnum opus before the grumbling volcano covers their town of Boscoreale with molten lava. At stake is the fiendishly competitive writer’s place in history. But, as most of Taverus’s work is already considered outdated according to his Pompeii-educated son, there’s no point in resisting the ghostly voiceovers of his dead wife, who wants him to reconcile with the boy before they’re both up to their eyeballs in ash.

Though it’s a slog for the audience, the real victims of director Damon Kiely’s production are the actors, who look tentative and confused about which direction to take the schlocky material. Suffice it to say that sentimentality doesn’t suit Adobe, which seems to have misplaced the frog-eating daring and wit that made their fairy-tale spoof Duet! such a promising musical-theater oddity. — Charles Mcnulty