The Stuff of Myth
by Roger Gregg
Dublin: Project Arts Centre, 8th to 24th February
Project Arts Centre Web Site
The pits of Hades. Pluto, Lord of the Underworld stands shrouded in swirling mists, hellions creeping, snarling, nipping at his heels. Persephone, Queen of Darkness, sweeps in, her red hair streaming behind her in a fiery mane, and screams “You’ve done it again. You’ve left the bath rug on the floor.” Ah. The stuff of myth indeed, in the hands of the very talented Roger Gregg, actor, writer, and innovator behind Crazy Dog Audio Theatre (productions reviewed here on culturevulture.net in 2001). Gregg’s aesthetic is part Monty Python, part Douglas Adams, part Frank Zappa, and usually coloured with a Celtic twist that comes from his having resided in Ireland throughout most of his adult life.
Here he tackles the subject of Greek Mythology, most directly Orpheus and Euridice. As Hades (Morgan Jones) and Persephone (Karen Ardriff) debate the function of a bathroom rug, enter handsome Orpheus (David Murray), clad in black leather and a frilly shirt with a musical instrument slung over his shoulder rock star style. Cue his narrative of the backstory which has brought him to the underworld to find his lost (dead) love (Eimear O’Grady), a backstory playing fast and loose with various mythologies and never very far from poking fun at contemporary ideologies and identities at the same time. Orpheus is a layabout, you see, and is pressed into service with Jason and the Argonauts by his stepfather Oegrus (Gregg) to get him out of the house and away from his cloying mother, Calliope (Ardriff). Possessed of a magical voice capable of charming any who hear it, he is tossed from the Argo by the ungrateful crew after he frees them from the spell of the Sirens by singing better than they do. The problem is that he sings so well, everyone and everything falls in love with him, and Jason (Gregg) has enough to be worried about without having that problem to deal with, so they throw him to the sea where a pod of dolphins become altogether too friendly for Orpheus’ taste.
And so it goes.
There is a wonderful comic energy to everything Crazy Dog does, an energy perfectly attuned to the audio medium. Gregg’s conception of drama is primarily aural though, including both music and spoken performance (along with the usual foley work, of course). I did have the unique privilege of seeing the troupe perform live on air in the year 2000 at a science fiction convention (so sue me), where the manic performances, all directed at the microphones though also to the live audience, made for an electrifying theatrical experience. It seemed only natural that the troupe would turn to full blown theatre in time, but the result isn’t quite theatre yet, or maybe just not really good theatre just yet.
Of course, a judgment like that is exactly what the aesthetic of the show defies. Hades himself scathingly remarks at one point “If I wanted to see a bunch of twats prancing around pretending to be profound I’d go to the theatre.” The Stuff of Myth is partly a sophomoric skit, partly a live musical show, and partly a ‘profound’ statement about the big questions raised by all mythology: who are we? are we defined by identity, by characteristics, or by abilities? why do we love and what is it we love in ourselves and others? why do we strive and quest, for what reward and with what ultimate ambition? The show concludes with an “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” type of song that explains that Gregg’s reading of the tragedy of Orpheus and Euridice is that love is the stuff of myth, something we cling to but which may be based on (necessary) illusion, fairytale, and convenience. It’s a terribly sobering end to a show which really relies heavily upon wacky humour.
The show is directed by Deirdre Molloy, who does her best to open out the action from the dynamics of actors standing around a set of microphones, and succeeds quite well for the most part. There are some nice visual/theatrical moments, including Euridice’s resurrection as a shade and the journey of the Argo, but really very little that could not have been done aurally. In fact, there is a tendency to tautology in the show as many visual actions are underlined and underscored by musical cues which, if your eyes were closed, would convey the idea perfectly well. For example when uber-nymph Agave gives innocent Euridice some lessons in sex appeal, the music strikes a saucy chord for every hip thrust and bust push posed out by Karen Ardriff. The double emphasis does make the comic effect even more pronounced, but it runs close to overkill.
This is a show which relies upon your indulgence though, and if you can tune in to the style early on and forgive some longeurs in the first act, there is much to enjoy. However, for my money, you are actually best served by turning to the original radio productions themselves (available online), many of which challenge the limits of the medium and deploy its capacities in innovative and exciting ways. This stage adventure does not do that for theatre. Not yet.