Los Angeles Theater Review: CYCLOPS: A ROCK OPERA (Psittacus Productions)

by Tony Frankel on January 24, 2011

in Theater-Las Vegas

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MORE PHALLUS, PLEASE

I don’t know about you, but if I were a 5th century Greek who had just witnessed three back-to-back tragedies at the Festival Dionysus, only one thing could lift my spirits: Party! The Greeks loved to party as much as they loved theatre, so why not combine the two? The “party” became a gay (read: merry…no, come to think of it, read: gay) after-piece, now known as a “satyr play.” Much shorter in length (and often written by the same author of the three tragedies preceding it), satyr plays carried over the ubiquitous theme of tragedy – the effect of the Gods and fate on humans – but were tragicomic burlesque, rampant with unabashed sexuality, drunkenness, sight gags and high spirits. In lieu of a commentating chorus, satyrs – half-men, half-goat, and all drunken libido – were the comic relief.

Enter Psittacus (SIT-ih-kuss) Productions, which is inches away from becoming a phenomenon of theatrical invention, simply based on their stunningly staged, flashlight-lit “deconstruction” of Macbeth in 2010 – A Tale Told by an Idiot. The vibrant and über-intelligent co-founders Louis Butelli, Chas LiBretto and Robert Richmond have dedicated themselves to staging plays from the classical cannon with a decided leaning towards ways in which the Classical informs the modern age.

It seems only fitting, then, that these Bohemian Intelligentsia would celebrate the original “party boy” Dionysus – loosely known as the God of wine, women and song – by adapting and directing the only remaining intact Satyr Play, Euripedes’ Cyclops, as a garage band-styled rock and roll concert: Cyclops: A Rock Opera.

If you read a translation of Cyclops prior to your attendance at this rockin’ party (and how many of you will do that?), you will know that it is about Odysseus (LiBretto) who, having lost his way while returning home from the Trojan War, stops in Sicily for some grub. He encounters Silenus (Butelli), who is stranded on the island with the Satyrs, where they have been enslaved by a Cyclops named Polyphemus (Jayson Landon Marcus). After a scuttlebutt involving stolen food, the Cyclops chomps down some of Odysseus’ crew, leaving the hero no choice but to intoxicate the one-eyed monster. The drunken cannibal then makes sexual advances toward Silenus shortly before he has his eye burned out by Odysseus. Wine! Sodomy! Snacks! Are we talking a party here, or what?

Of the four translations I read, Percy Shelley’s verse is the best suited for musicalization. But the boys at Psittacus went one better and “freely adapted” the text, turning chunks of dialogue into rock opera. They also added the characters of Dionysus (Casey Brown) and his female votaries, the sexy Maenads. (To be honest, I’m pretty sure none of this background will matter if you slam back a few tall boys during the show.)

The show is accompanied by a hedonistic rock band named The Satyrs (Paul Corning, Stephen Edelstein, Benjamin Sherman); they enter wearing furry chaps and punk rock make-up, bleating all over the stage. The staging is smart, the performers are exuberant, and composers Marcus and Sherman have written some true nuggets of gold – including the infectious “I’m a Cyclops.”

The end result is a recommended and inspired evening of unadulterated fun – that is, if you are so enthralled by the 1980s East Village joie de vivre – and some killer tunes – that you are willing to endure a rocky narrative and some indecipherable lyrics. Plus, the adroit band is awfully loud. I will never for-the-life-of-me understand why some folk will excuse unintelligibility for concept (Hedwig and the Angry Inch comes to mind). The quality of innovation on display is unsurpassed; those who are starved for intelligent invention, including yours truly, will not only embrace Psittacus Productions, but thrust them on top of the tallest pillar. However, to reach a wider audience, the plot and lyrics simply have to be more accessible.

If the creators decide to keep the show intact as it finds an afterlife (their next stop is the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse), they should lower the volume and increase the hedonism – in other words, pump up the phallus. When the conversation at a loud party is incomprehensible, eye-candy (such as those rosy-red phalluses on Greek Vases) goes a long way when it comes to holding my attention. After all, Shelley’s verse – “Beaked Prow,” “Naked Mast,” “All my boys…made white with foam,” “Did it flow sweetly down your throat?” – is literature that is stained like a whorehouse mattress with modern sexual allusions.

photos by Sara Bibi Gainer and Nicole Klope

Cyclops: A Rock Opera
Son of Semele Ensemble, 3301 Beverly Blvd.
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on March 20, 2011
for tickets, visit Psittacus or SOSE

then moves to the Carrie Hamilton Theatre
Pasadena Playhouse
April 7 – May 8, 2011
Thurs at 9; Sat at 11; Sun at 9
for tickets, visit Pasadena Playhouse

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