By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Selfie opp: “I Survived The Fall Of The House Of Atreus” says the hand-lettered sign in the lobby of the Backstage Theatre. “Yee Haw!” And there’s helpful signage, too, for the confused, the bemused, the congenitally tentative: One arrow points to Old West; the other to Ancient Greece.
Yes, my philosophical friends, grab a drink and follow the arc of western civilization into the theatre. The opening image, the slow progress of a light-up cowboy hat across the stage, is probably the calmest moment in The Fall of the House of Atreus. Breathe, people, and hold the thought of that hat for later.
Catharsis can be yours, in slightly less than an hour. Impossible Mongoose’s madcap cavort, by Jessy Ardern, flings you (and its participants) at top speed through five generations of creative assassinations, murderous plots, instant betrayals, sex and violence, treacherous and/or vengeful relatives, near-relatives, and second cousins twice removed.
Did I mention the sex? Nothing like a fling with a god to make your love life more, like, mythic. Did I mention the curses, regularly recurring, signalled by a blast from a party horn? Did I mention … well, let the cannibalism be your own special discovery (note to self: verify all mystery meat).
As Ardern and director Kushneryk have gleaned, Greek tragedy, with its loops of bad behaviour and unfortunate choices, has everything you need for comedy and its meaner party-animal sibling, farce. The key is speed. As John Mortimer has said, farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute. And Kushneryk’s riotously inventive production, which brought hilarity to its Fringe audiences last summer, takes that idea to heart, in this new edition of the show.
On an all-white set, with its own all-white clouds, a white-faced cast of three — Morgan Grau, Graham Mothersill, Sarah Feutl, all excellent — enter and exit at a burn-out pace, flinging cheap-theatre props, puppets, and puns as they go. The design is by director Kushneryk.
The show’s inspiration is to combine Greek-style declamation, in all its stylized solemnity, with pop culture in all its cheesy extensions — to uncover the recurring pattern of dysfunction. “We are the Furies; we are the kindly ones,” declare the three, appointing themselves the Greek chorus. They know a good riff when they hear it. “We are the mothers of vengeance and the fathers of blood.”
Amusingly Ardern has recognized that Greek style of promotional self-introduction as modern currency. “Hi, I’m Pelops; I like naming peninsulas after myself.” When Pelops unexpectedly gets raised from the dead — his dad had him cooked and served to the gods at a feast — he falls big-time for Princess Hippodamia, their compatibility exploration has a certain ring to it. “What’s your favourite pizza topping?” Olive? Wow, me too! This little show is one of the contemporary theatre’s most comprehensive repositories of olive jokes (Ariel Levine gets the credit for this supply in the program).
At high speeds, there’s undeniably a daffy side to the heaping of terrible events. The time-strapped (and Classics drop-outs) should note that you get the entire Trojan War, years of it, including build-up and aftermath, in a matter of minutes. There is a brief pause, as announced, “for character development,” before the shameless punning and cheap-theatre joking resumes.
The fun is in direct proportion to the smallness of the cast and the budget. Ingenuity gets the nod over pity and terror. And ingenuity is exactly what Kushneryk’s production delivers as the monumental gets cut down to recognizable human scale. The House of Atreus is the ultimate fixer-upper in that way.
It’s a clever kind of zaniness, from a company to keep your eye on. If you missed the show last summer, you’ve had a reprieve. And as The Fall of the House of Atreus will reveal, take reprieves when they’re offered; the gods don’t offer twice.
The Fall of the House of Atreus
Written by: Jessy Ardern
Directed by: Corben Kushneryk
Starring: Morgan Grau, Graham Mothersill, Sarah Feutl
Where: Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave.
Running: through April 2
Tickets: 780-409-1910, fringetheatre.ca