Full disclosure: As a mere slip of a girl I used to read Bullfinch’s Mythology and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology for fun and enlightenment and when I couldn’t sleep I would populate the Greek heavens and Elysium with the names of the gods and goddesses in lieu of counting sheep.
Imagine my delight when it was announced Happenstance Theatre would perform Pantheon, their ode to myths and immortals, at the Theatre Project in Baltimore right about the time Persephone emerges from the underworld for six months, i.e., spring.
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The celestial theme of the show is tempered by graceful, clowning comedy of the Bill Irwin-David Shiner ilk that just charms, as well as an inventiveness that shows the infinite possibilities gifted performers can bring to a couple of ladders, white sheets and a flashlight.
The Happenstance troupe conjures a classical pantheon of characters and ancient stories with these simple props and sets their narrative in the 1940s of factory workers and Rosie the Riveters. Sounds weird? Yes, but it’s good-weird.
Accompanied by the snazzy jazz syncopations of Craig Jaster (a one-man band who has the astounding ability to play the drums with one hand and the piano with the other), we meet the coveralls-clad performers as assembly line workers in what we assume is a mythology factory.
Similarly, the gods and goddesses we meet have that silver screen luminosity of the Hollywood dream factory, all tumbly waved hair and draped creamy satin dresses (Sabrina Mandell crafted the costumes, which have that “Gowns by Adrian” quality of a 1940s Tinseltown fantasy).
The tragic love story of Orpheus (Gwen Grastorf, crooning like Sinatra and natty in a cream colored suit and matching fedora) and Eurydice (an elegantly wistful Sarah Olmsted Thomas) weaves through the 75-minute show, and displays Happenstance’s gift with shadow puppetry as Orpheus meets the creatures and denizens of the underworld as he descends to bring back lost love Eurydice. By the way, Orpheus charms the three-headed watchdog Cerberus with a rendition of “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?”
closes April 14, 2019
Details and tickets
Pantheon comes to DC
June 18 – July 1, 2019
Details and tickets
A bit of wry humor is seen in the Three Fates scene, where Mandel is the head sister holding the scissors that clip the threads of life with her coworkers Sarah Olmsted Thomas and Gwen Grastorf, who chatter and gossip like WWII-era cutie patooties with their hair bound up in period snoods. They decide to knock off work early and the fallout from their decision affects Mark Jaster in a darkly funny way.
The trio reappears later in the decision of Paris scene, as Paris (Alex Vernon) has to choose between who is the prettiest of the goddesses—Hera (Mandell), Athena (Grastorf) and Aphrodite (Thomas). They sing “Pick Me” with Andrews Sisters harmony until Paris makes his choice. Spoiler alert: His decision is swayed by a gal named Helen of Troy.
Mark Jaster ably morphs from chicken to snake, bug, Scotsman and French bon vivant as Proteus, the shape-shifting god who is slippery about telling what he knows, while Craig Jaster delights with his original risqué ditty about the blind prophet Tiresias asked by Zeus who gets more pleasure “in the sack”—men or women.
You don’t have to be a Greco-Roman mythology maven to appreciate the deft physical performing style and delicate whimsy of Happenstance to enjoy Pantheon, but the basic ability to know your Aphrodite from your Athena couldn’t hurt.
Pantheon created by Happenstance Theater . Featuring: Gwen Grastorf, Craig Jaster, Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, Alex Vernon . Music composed and/or arranged by: Craig Jaster. Lighting: Kris Thompson. Puppets: Alex Vernon. Costumes: Sabrina Mandell. Stage Manager: Tori Munoz. Produced by Happenstance Theater . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.