We all know the tale, more or less, of Odysseus and his encounter with the monstrous, sailor-snacking Cyclops. Well, in the Long Beach Playhouse current production of Euripides’ “The Cyclops” we get a somewhat different, somewhat skewed retelling of that get together.
First, a quick history lesson on the topic of ancient Greek theatre (bear with me – I said quick). Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical drama (name the other two – answer at the bottom *). But Euripides was enfant terrible of the trio. Not only a radical innovator, but if there was a subject forbidden or a nose untweaked, leave it to Euripides to tackle both head on. He offered up at the Dionysia, the illustrious Athenian festival of arts and theatre, his “The Trojan Women” arguably one of the most striking anti-war plays ever written when the city was in the middle of the great Peloponnesian War. That takes some orbs, if you know what I mean.
So, it is fitting that the only surviving Satyr play should have come from his pen…or stylus. Satyr plays differ from tragedy and standard comedies of the Greek stage in that they were farcical in nature and burlesque in presentation. (Okay, end of lesson, class dismissed).
Andrew Vonderschmitt, to his credit, has attempted to introduce “The Cyclops” to new audiences and in doing so has achieved a beautiful staging. Naomi Kasahara’s set wonderfully serves the comic tone of the play and Donna Fritsche’s costumes capture the right mix of antiquity and antics. Art director David Scaglione’s bawdy puppetry is also first-rate and supplies some of the evening’s best chortles.
Dale Jones plays the pedantic prodding narrator to perfection, who dishes out verbose “footnotes” explaining the minutiae of the mythology to the audience while the hard-pressed Odysseus (Paul Bouyear) just wants to get on with it. Skip Blas, as the Cyclops, “fee-fi-fo-fums” with marvelous merry menace, while Douglas Seagraves as his servant and occasional sex toy spices up the show with some naughty snickers. Vonderschmitt, the twisted genius behind this effort works the double entendres successfully, though for my money we could have done with less Homer and more Thalia, along the lines of James McLure approach in his riotous romp that retooled John O’Keefe’s “Wild Oats” as a Wild West show.
But Vonderschmitt’s adaption is still greatly entertaining, while offering the serious students of theatre a rare opportunity of enjoying a rare gem of the art that’s too seldom seen.
* Sophocles & Aeschylus of course.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10.
Where: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St.