West Philly’s Curio Theatre Company never plays it safe; they started out their ninth season with a controversial re-imagining of ROMEO AND JULIET, and now they’re winding things up with a crazed take on the Greek myth of Oedipus. Created by the British comedy troupe, SpyMonkey, OEDIPUSSY mines the laughs of myth in ways you can’t even imagine. (And who knew there were laughs in Greek mythology…) The production is directed by John Bellomo (who puts his background in Commedia dell’Arte to great use) and runs on the theatre’s main stage from April 27th to May 27th.
Curio is producing the North American premiere of an outrageous piece of comedic madness that has been described as “James Bond meets Greek tragedy”. Founded in 1997 by Toby Park, Petra Massey and Aitor Basauri, SpyMonkey employs an extremely edgy approach to comedy—one British paper dubbed it as “somewhere between Monty Python, the Marx Brothers and Samuel Beckett.” The troupe has gained notoriety throughout Europe, but is not really known here in the U.S. After seeing OEDIPUSSY, I think I can safely say their work should be quite successful here.
Most should be familiar with the story of Oedipus, who kills his father and marries his mother (I mean he has a whole mental illness named after him), but even if you aren’t, you’ll have an absolute blast. If they had taught us mythology this way in school, I would have retained a lot more. This thing has everything but the kitchen sink; and the ensemble of four are whirling dervishes of insane stagecraft; Aetna Gallagher, Paul Kuhn, Brian McCann and Harry Slack employ every trick in the book of physical comedy. Gallagher, Kuhn and McCann bemoan the fact they are all in their late 40s and that their days onstage may be numbered. And then go on to make liars of themselves for the next two hours as they climb, dance, roll around on the floor and generally cut loose. Each performer gets a moment to directly address the audience; Slack attempts a new career path as a standup comedian (to mixed effect), and Gallagher compares her characters lives to her own, while McCann discusses the toll the role of Oedipus is taking on his body—complete with an ankle brace. I found Paul Kuhn’s assessment that OEDIPUSSY may end his tenure as Artistic Director particularly funny.
Director John Bellomo manages to corral the inmates—I mean put his directorial stamp on the production. He keeps the pace frenetic as needed, yet never lets anyone veer too far off course. (Although, I’m not sure if anyone could really tell if things went awry. It’s Aeschylus on steroids.) For all the lunacy occurring onstage, there is a story to tell. And they do it in a way that makes all that highbrow Greek stuff very clear and accessible to all.
Colleen Hughes has lent an assist with some wonderfully inventive movement and dance coaching. Abetting the proceedings is a tech team of terrifically talented people who clearly had a ball adding to the madness. On top of mastering the demands of the script, Ms. Gallagher devised the over-the-top costumes required for the piece. The quartet starts out in street clothes, but soon bravely appear in what can only be described as diapers. (God Bless You All! And what methods did you all use to get in “fighting” shape for this bad boy?) Things just go crazy from there, adding wigs, tunics, capes, spandex and all sorts of other wild getups. The set is deceptively simple at first glance, but there are hidden treasures that get revealed throughout; it was adapted by Kuhn from SpyMonkey’s original concept (as were Gallagher’s costumes). Tim Martin’s (at times disco-like) lighting and Carl Park’s sound effects are perfect—and they get their own laughs. Everything about this production was perfection. I can say in all honesty, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in the theatre—even though the show does start out bashing reviewers. (They go all McCarthy on us and (gasp) name names!!!)
Curio chose the perfect play to end their season with—leave ‘em laughing. And laughing the opening night audience was. There is a great deal of audience interaction; of course one woman decided that meant she was now part of the show. Kudos to the actors for gently shutting her down.
I give this show two thumbs, eight fingers and ten toes up. Do yourself a favor and head to Curio for an evening of non-stop laughs. This is one of those rare “don’t miss” productions. I wouldn’t take the little ones though—there is a lot of bawdy humor on hand. (Adults in diapers, what else would you expect?) I promise you will laugh so hard it hurts.
Adapted by Emma Rice
Written by Carl Grose & SpyMonkey
(Aitor Basauri, Stephan Kreiss, Petra Massey & Toby Park)
Directed by John Bellomo
April 27—May 27, 2014
Curio Theatre Company
4740 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143