WORD ON THE STREET

Theater Review: "zounds!", A Tale of Narcissists

December 21, 2018

 

  zounds! opened on November 30th. Video filmed and edited by Starr Street Media. 

          

         zounds! a play by Veronika Gribanova directed by Kevin Mejia was an extremely entertaining modern retelling of the Trojan War through the perspective of the Greek gods. The mythology is presented through the lens of a lax 21st century culture and is spoken in a modern vernacular, creating an oddly relatable tale of love and acceptance of one’s fate.

 

           The story opens on the 9th year of the Trojan War. The gods are gathered around a common area watching the war through a television. They react to the sounds of swords clashing and battle cries as if they were watching the Super Bowl. The gods are torn between the Trojans and Greeks, with only a few gods without a care. They conspire against each other in order to see the war play out in their favor;  it is merely a game to them. It is a great critique on classism and economic/social inequality. The play begins right after Zeus enforces a moratorium on the other gods, keeping them locked in their house on Mount Olympus indefinitely and impeding their involvement with the war. The result is a classic sitcom storyline intertwined with a mythology rich in lore to make for some great comedy with truly unexpected twists. As the show progresses, we get to take a hyper-realistic peek into the logic behind decisions that led to the events of the Trojan war. Why did Odysseus never find his way home? How did Patroclus die? Why do these gods continue to work so hard for humans that don’t believe in them? All these questions were answered in the most outrageous ways. The cast and crew had 5 weeks to work out every detail of the story: writing, casting, sets, costumes, etc. With so little time, it is fascinating that they were able to make the production a seamless experience from entrance into the theater to exit. Getting a ticket for the show was a speedy process, the box office was very well organized (all managed by Maria Camila Osorio) and kept people flowing quickly into the house. Afterwards, when I went two floors down to the basement level (where the theater is situated) and sat down in my seat, time flew. I was so enthralled with the production, the show's run time of two hours halved in my perspective. Despite their crunch time, Floor Five Theater Co. has successfully created a fleshed-out new narrative that questions the inconsistencies of Greek Mythology in the most hilarious way and mirrors them to the inconsistencies of our modern world.

           It would be a shame to not go through every character in the play as each performance had a piece of memorabilia that stuck with you. Akili Brown’s performance of Zeus [GOD OF SKY LAW & ORDER] held the cast grounded as this omnipotent father acts as the moral figure of the pack. Towards the latter half of the play, Brown reveals the characters’ true nature as his insecurities and doubts begin picking at his brain. His transition from an all-knowing calm and wise king to a fearful and irrationally impulsive one was a pleasure to witness on stage. Daniel Ganze gave a very funny performance as Poseidon [GOD OF SEA, EARTHQUAKES & STORMS], playing the role of the awkward uncle. From his drunk rant on how unappreciated he is during the gods’ party scene to his cleverly-construed plans to torture sinners from the Trojan War (all of his plans included a storm in the middle of the sea), Ganze had me laughing as loud as I possibly could when the scene called for comedy and had me locked in the moment when the situation got tense. In contrast, the third of the three main brothers, Hades [GOD OF THE UNDERWORLD] played by Michael Martinez, was a divine rockstar incarnate. His unwelcome presence incites the cast to go crazy, acting as another conundrum to tackle while the gods are stuck on Mount Olympus. Ana Guzman Quintero’s performance as Athena [GODDESS OF WAR & WISDOM] included one of the best executions of stage combat I’ve ever witnessed. Her wise and underdog nature blended well with Hephaestus’s [GOD OF FIRE & METALWORKING] role as the nonchalant outsider (played by Cameron Bell). Both actors had such effective chemistry; the performances were very present and very comfortable. You couldn’t help but empathizing with Bell as you could always see how his broken psyche weighed on him with every line delivered. Maria Isabella Rojas played her role as expected from Hera [GODDESS OF MARRIAGE], acting as a constant reminder to Zeus that his unfaithful and sexually-driven nature has shattered her trust for all eternity. Berenice Odriozola and Ellen Ko, Demeter [GODDESS OF HARVEST & FERTILITY] and Hestia [GODDESS OF HEARTH & HOME] respectively, join Rojas to complete the clique of mothers. The three goddesses are the counterparts to Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, making for some hilarious moments of talking smack and pointing out the three brothers’ inconsistencies. Turner Morehead’s portrayal of Hermes [GOD OF TRAVELERS, BOUNDARIES & TRANSITIONS] gives the character a naïve and eager energy that really highlights his role as part of the youth. The younger gods (the children of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) also include Ares [GOD OF WAR]  played by Luke Condzal, Dionysus [GOD OF WINE, FESTIVITY & MADNESS] played by Jake Roberson. Apollo [GOD  OF SUN, MUSIC & POETRY] played by James Burgin and Artemis [GODDESS OF THE MOON, HUNTING & WILDLIFE] played by Cristina Carrillo. All gave very accurate performances, playing on the youth stereotype. James and Cristina had beautiful chemistry as a dynamic duo of millennial stoners while Ares and Dionysus played more the role of the less mature and more sensitive younger siblings. Aphrodite [GODDESS OF LOVE], played by Felicia Santiago, and Helen of Troy, played by Amanda Shi, share a forbidden love story that ties in very well to Aphrodite’s relationship with the other gods. This relationship is kept under wraps, seen in her outcast and closed-off behavior throughout the show. Her love for Helen keeps the mortal protected and thus the war ongoing. Both actresses did an amazing job at keeping the love ambiguous at first to then reveal the source of the story’s conflict. Santiago portrayed the emotional and mental tax of her forbidden love in tune with Shi’s fear and unsureness. In order to tie up loose ends and inform the audience on any missing context of the mythology, a traditional Greek chorus of three (consisting of Kate Smith, Sofia Mirpuri, and Noemi Sarog) stand back and witness the gods’ selfish involvement with the war. They have an implicit contrarian nature, acting as the human perspective/devil’s advocate to the gods. Smith, Mirpuri and Sarog delivered the lines hilariously, especially in the moments where they pulled out their phones to read “tweets” to the gods from humans on Earth.

 

          The costume design by James Burgin (who also played Apollo) was truly remarkable. Every god was dressed in a modern portrayal of their personality. Every detail was extremely fleshed out. For instance, Zeus wore an all-white 3-piece suit with the most exquisite embroidered patterns that supplemented his omnipotent, caring and fatherly nature. In contrast, Hades rocked so much leather and red with a button down that remained half unbuttoned throughout the show. This costume really emphasized the god’s sex appeal.

 

          The set (designed by Michael Martinez who also played Hades) was made to look holy. A long table spread across the back of the stage to hold a place for each god when conglomerating before or during dinner. In front of the table, a large common area opens the space for scenes and puts the gods and goddesses in their most intimate habitat. A door to the left of the stage acts as the home’s front door and a beautifully printed framed painting of Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem’s The Fall of the Titans hangs behind the dinner table to remind the gods of their mortality.

 

           The sound design, designed by Avigail Bryger and Tim Laschkolnig, was on queue with every upward pointing of Zeus’s finger triggering an eruption of thunder and flashing lights. However, this gimmick felt worn out by the fourth time it was used. The lighting throughout the show used a beautiful rose-colored palette in contrast to the regular well-lit tungsten glow. All live technical elements of the show went on as they were supposed to and really helped add sprinkles to the aesthetic.

 

           The playwright, Veronika Gribanova, so masterfully juxtaposes the immortals and mortals, revealing the gods’ all-encompassing flaw: their human nature. Their hunger for power, aggressive drive for sex and their selfish nature all help chip their divine armors. Kevin Mejia’s direction highlights this exposition and blends seamlessly with Gribanova’s writing. Mejia’s choices helped the show (which contained a lot information unknown to the general public) become as accessible as possible. It was mesmerizing to see this piece of new work executed so meticulously and with so much passion from this theatre company of 27 very talented individuals. I cannot wait to see more upcoming work from Floor Five Theatre Co.  

 

               zounds! played at the Atlantic Theatre Company’s Stage 2 on November 30th-1st.

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