Are you aware that most of the Greek and Roman gods can be found working in Brooklyn? It’s not much of a stretch: whether driving the Chariot of the Sun, ferrying the dead, or guarding the entrance to Hades, the gods have jobs, just like us.
With Pantheon, Happenstance Theater takes this unlikely conceit and spins us a myriad of tales for some mythological merriment. Many will be familiar: The Trojan Horse, Medusa, Cerberus the Three-Headed Dog. Yet others, such as Phaethon’s reckless drive of sun god Helios’ chariot and the god Aristaeus, who introduced beekeeping to mortals, were new to me.
Happenstance never fails to delight, and Pantheon, part mime, part melodrama, part puppet show, part musical, is no exception. It’s essentially a dissertation of sorts on man’s relationship with the gods, told with humor and pathos.
Pantheon from Happenstance Theater closes July 1, 2019. Details and tickets
Point in fact: as the Fates, (Sabrina Mandell, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, and Gwen Grastorf) spin the threads of mens’ lives, they snip the life threads with scissors- and, on a whim, decide to knock off work early, leaving Ordinary Mortal (Mark Jaster), to die a slow, surprised demise whilst still hanging on to a ladder by his toes. Sudden death was never so funny.
But it isn’t just the mortals who get a humorous twist: the Sphinxes, two hairball-spitting felines in fur collars, become purring kittens as they are charmed and flattered by Orpheus on his way into Hades to rescue his beloved. Though he gets in, it doesn’t end well for his wife. Alex Vernon, creating clever shadow puppetry, shows Eurydice falling back into Hades, where huge rocks roll over people and gigantic demons chew off the heads of the damned. That sounds pretty grisly,and it is, but trust me, it’s funny as well.
By far the most surprising piece of the evening- and the cleverest- is a bit of audience participation. The Oracle, played by blindfolded Alex Vernon and Sabrina Mandell, takes questions from the audience. Though this sounds simple, each actor supplies but a single word at a time: quite a trick. To the question “How much longer must we suffer under the current administration?” the answer went like this:
The Oracle(s) then dismounted from their ladder throne and stumbled off- wise the Oracle may be, sure, but still blind.
Happenstance Theater also uses each company member to their fullest. Sabrina Mandrell is a costumer par excellence- the 1940s worker chic is wonderful, from Rosie the Riveter overalls and bandanna kerchiefs, to attiring Gwen Grastorf in a suave white suit and fedora for Orpheus. Ms Grastorf is a superb singer, giving Orpheus a snigger of satisfaction as he sings Orpheus’ Song (My Eurydice)– written by musician Craig Jaster. And Mr Jaster’s talents are in full bloom: not only does he play multiple instruments throughout the show, he also wrote much of the jaunty music, including its theme song, “Sacrifice.” He fills in the shows soundscape with 40s standards from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and other luminaries; watch out for “Bennie’s From Heaven”, a particularly delightful piece.
[adsanity_rotating align=”aligncenter” time=”10″ group_id=”1455″ /]
Sacrifice is at the heart of this show: what do the gods expect of us for all their hard work, and what do we expect of them in return?
This is a grand evening out- the house was nearly full the Thursday evening I saw it. The only real flaw I could detect was the ending, which came abruptly. Though, to be fair, (spoiler alert) it was the end of the world and I don’t suppose the gods will give us much warning when that happens.
Pantheon .Written and performed by Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmsted Thomas; Alex Vernon . Music Composed And/Or Arranged By: Craig Jaster . Costumes: Sabrina Mandell . Lighting: Kris Thompson . Puppets: Alex Vernon . Stage Manager: Evangelina Hakes . Produced by Happenstance Theater . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
ALAN M KING says
I must ask, because this review did not tell me:
1. Where is Pantheon performed?
2. Is this performance part of Capital Fringe?