OVID'S MYTHS: THE ROMAN NOSE IN EXILE: MERRY METAMORPHOSIS
When the poet Ovid was banned from Rome in 8 A.D., he set a rather unfortunate vocational precedent. Empires have crumbled, centuries passed, but poets - with all their ornate language, dense metaphor, and singular vision - often seem in universal exile, forever misunderstood.
Project InterAct, Zachary Scott Theatre Center's professional theatre company for young audiences, attempts to remedy this injustice by sculpting a play accessible to toddlers from language sometimes mystifying even to college students. The result is Clay Nichols' Ovid's Myths: The Roman Nose in Exile, a playful and loose lesson in history, mythology, sociology, and just getting along with each other.
After losing imperial favor in Rome, Ovid - appropriately nicknamed the "Nose" - begins the play deserted in the town of Thomas amongst savages, brute illiterates who don't know a conceit from a hole in their head. After finding tenuous refuge with two "recovering cannibals," Ovid attempts to gain favor in his new land by recounting pithy myths and fables culled from his piece de resistance, The Metamorphoses. And can you believe it? They don't even get it! Such artistic impalement thrusts the sensitive poet into a creative crisis - unable to write, to eat, even to think straight.
"The Nose" has all but given up on his literary endeavors when he receives the best kind of epiphany: a change of heart. As he begins to learn from the barbarians themselves, Ovid undergoes his own metamorphosis, in which the stubborn artist must question the real difference between the savage and the civilized.
The script by local playwright Nichols is replete with lessons, from red-light warnings against the trappings of prejudice to gentle reminders to say "Please" and "Thank you." Of course, such didacticism is cleverly disguised in slapstick and broad, goofy comedy ("You're the Nose," one character claims in a typical gag. "Don't blow it."). Roman Nose plays best when spinning its own myths, which pitter-patter away with the beauty of their language and imagery. But even the most lyrical passages have an undercurrent of silliness. One particular highlight includes a cleverly executed puppet show punctuated by good ol' fashioned potty humor.
Like many a low-brow comedy, the play sags in parts but is glued together by the frenetic energy of its cast members. As Will Underwood's Ovid pontificates and ponders, ensemble cast members Cara Briggs, Amber Dupuy, and Maurice Ripke (whose unflagging energy is simply astounding) flurry around him, flip-flopping roles with seamless proficiency. The actors paint their characters in fat strokes, using their bodies, their voices, their costumes like theatrical fingerpainting - smearing us with thick, vivid blobs of character.
In just one hour, director Judy Matetzschk and her capable cast manage to bring the Roman Nose out of exile and fill our schools with imagination, humor, warmth and poetry - a more fortunate precedent for any poet to follow. - Sarah Lys Hepola
THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT: VACUUMS TO VIETNAM
The King Stag: A SLICE OF SERENDIPITY
Serendipity, n. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. [After the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip.]
I suppose it wasn't really accidental, when you get right down to it. Happenstance would have been better served had I been, I don't know, just washing my car when a wonderful piece of theatre happened by. I mean, I went to the Dougherty Arts Center knowing I was going to see a play. But I didn't know how wonderful it was going to be.
The King Stag, produced by Second Youth Repertory Family Theatre, is, oddly enough, a fairy tale with Persian visual overtones that takes place in the kingdom of Serendip. In this kingdom lives King Deramo, who is searching for a bride. Three men deliver women to him but only one is chosen. Through the help of a magician's enchanted statue, Deramo discovers which woman truly loves him and, since this is a fairy tale, he discovers that he truly loves her back. But, of course, all cannot end happily there; the power-hungry Tartaglia seeks to change these joyful arrangements with the help of some magic and an evil laugh.
It is also, however, a show about appearances, about the surface of things not necessarily describing their inner shape. And this inner message must have been the starting point for the design team. On the outside, Laura J. Sandberg's lights are floating paper lanterns, J. Richard Smith's set is some rehearsal cubes, and his costumes are artfully draped pieces of colorful fabric. But on the inside, these simple elements combine with Brian Gaston's expressive masks to create a magical world in which this fairy tale can thrive.
The performers know how to make the most of these elements, as well as director and adapter Susan Dillard's take on Carlo Gozzi's 18th-century commedia dell'arte script. Each performance is bold and direct, full of strong postures and clear intentions. The actors move almost as if they are human puppets, controlled by Dillard's deft hand. Granted, some of the performers seem to be struggling to enunciate beyond Gaston's masks, but it isn't a major distraction from the frenetic action and fluid deliveries.
Like the discovery that you can represent a parrot with a piece of green silk - a technique in this production that I found oddly fascinating - the discovery of this fun, visually engaging bit of children's theatre was the slice of serendipity every theatre critic hopes for.
- Adrienne Martini
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