Regional Reviews: San Diego
Ralph (Jevon McFerrin) and Daphne (Shay Vawn) are classics professors who meet during a research trip. Both are engrossed in their scholarship, but in conversation Ralph lets out that he is hoping to find a manuscript of an early Greek play. So far, only fragments of the play have been found, but scholars know that sometimes full copies exist but are disguised as other works. Truth be told, there's not only an intellectual spark but a sexual spark between the two scholars, and Daphne agrees to help Ralph. As she's preparing to leave, a local souvenir seller (George Psomas) gifts her with a talisman. He tells her that if she gets into trouble, she can use the talisman to summon the Greek gods.
Of course, as in the "Chekhov's gun" principal, Daphne wears the talisman, gets into trouble (via the academic's nightmarelosing the one existing copy of something key to your entire line of scholarship), and wishes for the ancient gods to help.
Presto, the "gods of comedy" appear in a theatrical flourish. They are Dionysus (Brad Oscar), the god of not only comedy but also wine and revelry, and Thalia (Jessie Cannizzaro), the Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry. They tell Daphne that they have been instructed to give her both an adventure and a happy ending.
Daphne soon learns that Dionysus and Thalia are not only immortal but also magical, capable of appearing and disappearing, as well as shape-shifting. Planting them on the leafy, very leafy, grounds of Ralph's university (scenic design by Jason Sherwood, lighting design by Brian Gale) on homecoming weekend, the gods launch into a series of confused identities and sexual desire that's a bit reminiscent of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. After everything gets sorted out, it becomes clear that there has, indeed, been an adventure, as well as a happy ending.
Mr. Ludwig's story takes some time to launch, and jokes don't always land, especially in act one. The second act provides the setup's payoff, though a good deal of tolerance for both theatrical and dramaturgical magic is needed to make it work.
Still, director Amanda Dehnert, herself a Northwestern University professor, knows how to mount such a spoof, and her actors often respond with humorous character details that help keep audiences playing along. She's assisted by Linda Roethke's often fanciful costumes, Darron L West's sound design, and Jim Steinmeyer's "illusion design."
Mr. Oscar's role as Dionysus isn't quite a "star" role, but he makes Dionysus the dominant personality whenever he's on stage. Ms. Cannizzaro seems content to play the sidekick, and Ms. Vawn and Mr. McFerrin keep trying to strike the sexual spark, though they are better suited as frantic academics whose careers are on the line. Keira Naughton as the Dean of Humanities, Steffanie Leigh as a famous alum, and Mr. Psomas as two additional characters get to have fun with the mistaken identity part of the story.
Mr. Ludwig's "gods" are undoubtedly not the funniest characters he's every written, but they get their share of laughs from some hoary plotlines.
Ken Ludwig's The Gods of Comedy, through June 16, 2019, at The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, at The Old Globe's campus in Balboa Park, San Diego CA. Performances are Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, Tickets are available by calling 619-234-5623 or online at www.theoldglobe.org.