By Jean Lowerison
“Lend Me a Tenor” it isn’t, but “Ken Ludwig’s The Gods of Comedy” does at least offer an escape from the increasingly horrifying news of the day and entrance into a plot far wackier than the looniest of farces.
Tony Award-winning Ludwig’s latest effort has just arrived from a world premiere run at McCarter Theatre Center. I say “arrived” because it comes complete with the original director Amanda Dehnert, cast and supporting team, and plays through June 16 on the Old Globe’s Shiley Stage.
Seven actors play characters from American college academics to a Greek peddler, a Russian janitor, an American movie star and several mythological Greek deities, who cavort and bounce off each other in a dizzying (not to mention goofy) plot which seems more determined to exhaust than to amuse the audience.
We first meet Aristide (George Psomas), a street peddler on the Greek island of Naxos, where heroine Daphne (Shay Vawn), a young classics professor at an unnamed American university, has just arrived for a summer program.
Daphne is stewing about the two actors she’s just lost for the tenure-track production of “Medea” she’s directing when Aristide decides she needs a little adventure. He gives her a talisman which will, he says, ensure that she gets whatever she wants.
She meets colleague Ralph (Jevon McFerrin), who has astonishing news: the manuscript for Euripides’ “Andromeda” has just been found — and he has it.
Ralph entrusts Daphne with the book because he has a meeting with Dean Trickett (Keira Naughton) and doesn’t want to “drag it all over campus.”
She puts it on the desk and leaves for a fateful moment to answer the doorbell. While she’s gone, Russian janitor Aleksi (George Psomas) enters. The book has fallen off the desk and is sticking out of the trash can when Aleksi picks it up and takes this moment to practice using the paper shredder in the room. He shreds two pages, takes the book, vowing to try a different shredder, and exits.
When Daphne enters and realizes the play is gone, she mutters the fateful “Save me, gods of ancient Greece!” and leaves.
This is the cue for Brad Oscar as Dionysus (god of wine, madness, theater and ecstasy) and Thalia, the muse of comedy (Jessie Cannizzaro) to appear. Thalia is in flowing white. Dionysus is opulently and extravagantly attired in royal purple.
What follows is — to pick a single word — insanity, as the academics chase the lost book, the Greek gods drive the mortals even crazier by playing invisibility tricks, and American movie star Brooklyn (Steffanie Leigh) pesters Ralph for the starring role in what will surely be a film version of the Euripides play.
Amanda Dehnert keeps this frantic farce piece under a reasonable amount of control. Jason Sherwood’s set design includes lots of leaves (a university, you know). Linda Roethke’s costumes, Brian Gale’s lighting and Darron L West’s sound design work well, as does Jim Steinmeyer’s “illusion design.”
Don’t try to make sense of this circus. Just sit back and giggle at the visuals, which include Ares, the god of war (George Psomas again, this time resplendent in a white skirt, gold-tone armor, bulging muscles, sandals with gold shin splints and a crazy-looking gold Trojan-style helmet).
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.