|Rob Talbott, Kyle McReddle, Andrew Chung & Kyle Goldman (Apollo)|
Revenge killings, murders of your children, repeated rapes, fiery tortures, being transformed into animals or rocks – All are just part of the casual sharing and one-upping conversation taking place among the gods in bars and hangouts of the afterworld. As it turns out, many of their woes and demises are as a result of the rivalries, jealousies, and impetuosities of Zeus’ fraternal-twin kids, pretty-boy Apollo and his sister, virgin-hunter Artemis. In his dark comedy, Twins, now in world premiere at PianoFight, Stuart Bousel explores the lives and times of these two mythical heroes and sibling rivals, all done with tongue fully in cheek and Pandora’s Box opened to reveal dirty secrets galore.
Artemis and Apollo are the offspring results of a tryst between Zeus and Leto, something the wife of the almighty one, Hera, is not too pleased about but learns she has little power to stop the births or harm the mother (but that does not stop her from trying). From Day One when the two pop out fully grown, the sister and brother are in each other’s faces to tease and taut, beginning an eternity of rivalry, often with results disastrous for other gods and mortals. Their journey through resentments and revenges toward some sense of love and reconciliation is the plot line of Stuart Bousel’s play, mostly told through a parade of lower gods and goddesses that share both their adoration and their abhorrence of these two. The revelations come from heavenly hosts in modern dress; in dialects hilariously exaggerated and from all corners of the globe; and in the manner one might hear on the urban street corner, in a brothel, or on a cable TV talk show.
Kyle Goldman and Kathleen McHatton play the twins, Apollo and Artemis – he looking like The Flintstones Bam-Bam grown up into golden-locks, muscled (but not too bright) majesty, she like a pensive but quickly irritable version of a feminine Robin Hood. This Apollo is definitely a cartoon-version of the famed god, popping into spotlight to flex his ripped torso but always with a half-goofy, little-boy look and attitude that runs counter to his size. Artemis is quick to find ways to get under the skin of her brother’s immaturity and is fierce enough with her bow that he seems to know just how far he can push her, and not any further. The two actors are clearly having a ball in their roles and with each other as they pop in and out of the loose plot to update us on their relationship’s progression.
The other six members of the cast each play a triplet of godly roles. The major downside of the production is that it is often not at all clear who is which god/goddess and their relationships to the twins. Names, mostly unfamiliar to us as a modern audience, may or may not be clearly revealed; and there is unfortunately no dramaturgy offered in the program to prepare us for who such names as Rhea, Asclepsius, or Coronis is or any one’s relevance/significance in the grand, heavenly scheme.
That said, the individual and group appearances of the other eighteen deities are more often than not quite funny, even if not always totally understandable of connections and rationale for inclusion. The two whom we do quickly understand their roles is the business-dressed in blazer and tie Zeus (Rob Talbot) and his absolutely hysterical queen, Hera (Tonya Narvaez). While the former is straight off of Wall Street in his business-like efficiency and manner, Hera is Valley-Girl talking, potty-mouthed, and full of every put-down and insult she can muster – especially as she ridicules “Blondie” (aka Apollo). Ms. Narvaez is also a hoot as Hera’s chief rival for Zeus’s bedroom attention, a Cockney-accented Leto, whom we first meet as she is about to pop the six-foot-tall Apollo from her very pregnant body. And she has a stint as yet another mother, this time Niobe, who lost her twelve children in a Leto-induced rampage by the twins. (Or was it fourteen? Or did one survive, and it was thirteen? The debate continues.)
Niobe’s tale about her slain kids is just one of many such stories we hear shared by the now-residents of the underworld. There is Actaeon (Kyle McReddle) who was turned into a stag by a wrathful Artemis, Coronis (Laura Domingo) who was set aflame while pregnant by the jealous father Apollo, and Asclepsius (Rob Talbot, also Zeus) who was killed by his grandfather Zeus because the medical powers his father Apollo had given him meant too many mortals were staying alive. Most of these oft-horrible outpourings are almost told ho-hum, just friends sharing with friends. If some god does all of a sudden explode enraged, the others usually look a bit embarrassed for him/her and clearly want just to get back to every-day chatter about their own tales of woe and/or of their fame among the mortals as poets, musicians, and healers.
Among other roles, Andrew Chung is particularly delightful as the goat-horned Pan (son of Zeus and a wood nymph ... These gods do get around) who is a stand-out as he tells in southern hillbilly dialect his own tale with jocular, over-done motions.
Laura Domingo swoops in as a rainbow-draped, screechy-voiced Iris to monitor as Zeus’s spy the twins, insuring the virgin Artemis does not get too lovey-dovey with her hot sibling (or even hug him). (Ms. Domingo is also memorable as the bitter Cassandra, who is pissed no one will believe her predictions any more since Apollo cursed and reversed the very power he gave her as a means of trying to woo her to his bed.)
Another standout is Kyle McReddle as Eros, god of love (and sex), dressed as a winged auto-mechanic, who admits his clear attraction for the hunky Apollo and who tells us in his matter-of-fact manner that he is “just doing my job, not thinking about the future ... Love does not think about the future.”
Rounding out the cast is Kim Saunders, who gives a sobering soliloquy from her position as the goddess of the moon about all the children she has seen sent to pits, fires, rivers, and other means of needless destruction – by both the gods and certainly by humans, right up to examples hitting too close to home for comfort.
Stuart Bousel directs his own creation with attention to a steady, non-interrupted flow of the godly segments and to many doses of wink-wink humor, even as the tales are packed with blood and deplorable acts. Lindsay Eifert has decked the heavenly hosts in costumes both modern and classic, both Macy’s catalogue and children’s storybook. Lighting by William Campbell flashes bright upon the hero-like appearances of the Golden Boy and provides the shadows needed to remind us we are in a local bar of Hades.
If one is willing to come home and do a few Google, Wikipedia searches, what we laugh at in watching Twins begins to have more meaning and interlocked connections. The multiple roles taken by single individuals also often become part of the irony and joke, once the background stories are clearer than sometimes comes out in the script. But there is no doubt in leaving, even before any further research, that PianoFight has taken a worthwhile plunge into the ancient world, bringing those myths into the modern setting where they often sound too comfortably current.
Rating: 3.5 E
Twins continues through June 10, 1017 at PianoFight’s Second Stage, 144 Taylor Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.pianofight.com.