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WATER: BUOYANT FUN

Hyde Park Theatre,
through June 28
Running time: 1 hr, 35 min

So it's come to this: The mighty Odysseus, he who withstood the sirens' call, who vanquished the fearsome Cyclops, this wondrous wandering warrior is reduced to a mewling milksop who can't get a date. And three of Greece's glories - the general Agamemnon, the fire-giver Prometheus, the victor over the Sphinx Oedipus - these leaders, these men of courage and daring, reduced to sitting bow-backed on a bench, kvetching about who got screwed the worst. The resplendent goddess of love, Aphrodite? A tart in scarlet shakin' her groove thang in a nightclub for money. The ominous lord of the underworld, Hades? An ill-tempered interior decorator intent on draping the globe in basic black. Lo, how the mighty - at least, of ancient Greece - have fallen.

Such is the state of the Olympic pantheon and the heroes of Hellene in Ron Berry's Water. This buoyant comedy, with songs by William Walden and Alice Spencer, reveals the golden figures of legend to be with us still (on an unnamed isle in the Aegean) but much tarnished by modern times. They squabble, they scratch, they wear polyester. The creators have a good time goofing on these characters, and their current of uninhibited irreverence really keeps this show sailing along. From the band's look - togas and boots, with drawn-on moustaches - to the six-foot columns that don't just seem phallic but are phallic to the outsized masks on Agamemnon, Oedipus, and Prometheus, to the prissy puffery of Odysseus, performed with blowsy charm by the author, the show keeps the fun coming in waves.

There is a story to Water; it concerns an aging Greek (not one of the old heroes) who's also losing his taste for adventure and who's at odds with his modern nightclub owner son; the son who believes Aphrodite's appearance will put him on the map; and the American tourist who touches both their lives. But Berry doesn't put half as much fun into these latter-day characters as he does with the ancients, and their attitudes and motivations sometimes seem pat. Only the old dad, Perenikos, played with engaging humility and heart by Jeff Griffin, comes across as rounded and rich.

But neither the shallow characterizations nor fuzzy plot developments can sink this effort. It's too light, and the joy of the artists - Oh, those singers! Divine! - too uplifting for that. Water is a trip that proves you're never too old for adventure, that the gods may be crazy, and that the Disney corporation isn't the only one that can up-end Olympus for fun. It's well worth wading into. - Robert Faires


THE DUCHESS OF MALFI: BLOOD WILL TELL

The Public Domain,
through June 28
Running time: 2 hrs, 15 min

There's blood on the floor at The Public Domain. Or so it appears in this production of John Webster's Jacobean tragedy. Director and designer Robi Polgar has painted a long red runway down the middle of the theatre, a narrow expanse the color and texture of which suggests unstanched wounds, opened veins. So, as we watch the characters in this John Webster tragedy circle and dodge and confront each other - two brothers, one a Duke, the other a Cardinal, spying upon their widowed sister, the Duchess, to ensure that she does not remarry without their consent; the Duchess concealing her love for and marriage to her steward from them; a melancholy man in black who crosses between the two camps - we cannot escape the sense of blood beneath their feet, a channel of gore through which they are destined to wade.

This ever-present sense of the sanguinary shows just how in tune Polgar is to this play. Like many a Jacobean drama, it's steeped in blood: blood ties of relations whose passions for and against each other are among the deepest in the race; the hot blood that spurs lovers to embrace, even in the face of danger; and, of course, the spilled blood of slaughter, the aftermath of war and revenge. This is heady, visceral stuff, and Polgar embraces it with bold theatrical strokes: tableaux of growling, predatory figures, time-bending costumes that range from Renaissance doublets and hose to Fifties cocktail dresses to Western wear; strangulation by yards-long cords. The performers, too, seize the material, making daring choices that range from nudity to groveling grotesquely on the floor to confronting the audience. Not all the choices work and not all the performances are even, but they pulse with that sanguinary spirit of the script. And when they work - as with Katharine Catmull's sharp-witted, stiff-spined Duchess or Anne Hulsman's slinky, seductive lady Julia, or Steve McDaniel's bitter Bosola, the black-clad figure whose ghost of a conscience haunts him - they can have your temples pounding.

But then, the story is there right at your feet. Blood will tell. - Robert Faires


FLAME FAILURE, EPISODE 2: DIVING DEEPER

The Public Domain Gallery,
through June 29
Running Time: 40 min

There's just something about watching a tale unfold in front of your eyes that is somehow mystical, as if you were diving deeper into the ocean and watching as the environment becomes more and more unusual. It's even more delicious when you have to wait a month for your next level of unique creatures, when you are forced to stop at each new depth just when your curiosity has almost been fed and ponder what you will see after the delay.

Flame Failure: The Silent War, a play in 12 episodes with one running each month in The Public Domain's gallery, continues to supply unique fauna that you just want to watch in Episode Two: Hay in a Needlestack. Actors Ryan King, Brian Jepson, and Alvin Cantu effortlessly speak and spin playwright Dan Bonfitto's words while they add information to the complicated story that is delightfully revealing itself. Granted, this installment seems less refined than the first, Firebox, and at times you can see the playwright's hands pulling the characters' strings in order to set up the next 10 productions. Still, it's exciting to endure the wait before you can sink even further into these storytelling depths. - Adrienne Martini


THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD: REFRESHINGLY SOLID

State Theatre
through June 29
2Running Time: 2 hrs, 30 min

The yeomen of the guard can carry a tune marvelously, but they are not the brightest members of Gilbert & Sullivan's arsenal. Yes, they are trying their hardest and are chock full of patriotism, but they fail to notice that the one man that they are trying to capture is posing as one of their ranks; his clever disguise is no more than a missing beard. But this production of The Yeomen of the Guard is full of sharper wits, including those singers who make up these ranks of unobservant guardsmen.

The script itself is standard G&S fare, complete with crossed lovers, military-esque chorus, and tightly woven music, all well executed by Robert René Galván's orchestra. A twist exists in this seemingly frothy operetta: All does not end happily for all of the players. There is some strife in this world, heartache, that cannot have a happy ending.

Perhaps the strength of this Gilbert & Sullivan Society production lies in Christina Moore's lively direction or Andrea Ariel's precise choreo-graphy, or in their ability to get a very large cast on a very small stage without making it appear cramped. Added to their skills are a host of strong voices attached to equally strong actors. Janette Jones, as the love-struck Phoebe; Frank Delvy, as the love-struck jester; Cynthia Hill, as the love-struck Elsie; and Michael Lucus, as the love-struck Wilfred, stand out of this cast.

It would appear that the Society has taken some great strides with this production by stepping up the quality of directing and acting, but, like the guardsmen, is relatively unaware of some larger pieces that are out of place. Some of the roles, such as Fairfax, the romantic lead, and Dame Carruthers, the prison matron, are sung with great technical skill but look to have been cast based solely on the performer's vocal quality, not their acting ability or physical appearance. Mike McBride's lighting design is uneven, full of dark holes and a colorless cyc.

Still, these are minor annoyances in what is a refreshingly solid offering from this city's only society devoted to the preservation and performance of these masterworks of light operetta.

- Adrienne Martini







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