The Gods Are Crazy
As you enter Germinal Stage Denver, you're greeted in the lobby by Bill and Betty -- you know they're Bill and Betty because their name tags say so. Once you're comfortably seated, they take the stage to welcome you. They explain with great excitement that Jason and Medea are about to visit, bringing along the Golden Fleece for your inspection. Bill knows Jason well, having sailed with him on the Argo -- he was, in fact, the ship's steersman. Betty is equally familiar with Medea. At this very moment the children of both couples are playing together off stage.
But things don't work out as planned. There are all kinds of delays. It turns out that Jason and Medea are going through a marital crisis. Bill and Betty run off -- separately -- on periodic errands for these mythic masters, trying desperately to set things straight and keep us, the audience, mollified. They begin identifying with their errant guests and raging at each other.
Periodically, when either Bill or Betty is otherwise occupied, three actors who've been identified as the Golden Bough Improvisation Troupe are summoned to the stage. They proceed to act out a completely different story: the voyage of Orpheus to the Underworld to find his dead bride, Eurydice. The Underworld is ruled by a pretty traditional Pluto, but Orpheus and Eurydice are a modern couple. His celestial lyre has been replaced by a kazoo. They argue about her pushy mother.
It seems The Golden Fleece and Ah, Eurydice -- by A.R. Gurney and Stanley Taikeff, respectively -- are two separate plays, but director and Germinal founder Ed Baierlein has woven them artfully together as Greek Treats, and he's found hilarious ways to switch from one script to the other. I can't tell how each of these slight, charming pieces would have worked on its own -- Eurydice brings a farcical quality to the evening, Fleece a more sober intelligence. Both plays have fun juxtaposing mythic and contemporary stories; both concern troubled couples. And Orpheus was actually one of Jason's Argonauts. But there are key differences, too. In Ah, Eurydice, the larger-than-life figures of Greek mythology are whittled down to size. In Fleece, Jason and Medea retain their terrible power -- but we see it refracted through the psyches of the all-too-frail and human Bill and Betty.
Jason and Medea exert tremendous influence over their suburban friends. Jason's infidelity seems magnificent to Bill; it releases in him a huge yearning for something beyond his ordinary life, for unbridled, joyful, irresponsible, Dionysian sex. He tells the audience how he, Jason and Jason's mistress all danced together, demonstrating with a little Fred Astaire shuffle while humming "Heaven, I'm in heaven." Betty fantasizes about life in an all-woman commune run by Medea, where she'd make pottery and unleash her creative impulses and men would be strictly peripheral. The couple use Jason and Medea in the same way contemporary feminists employ images of the crone and the goddess within to give their lives a sense of importance, and men in the '80s followed Robert Bly into the woods to bond and beat on drums.
The trouble is, gods and goddesses rise from deep within the human mind and they can't be tamed. They're irrational, conscienceless and frequently murderous. Medea stacked up quite a pile of bodies on her way to marriage with Jason, and we know -- even if her friends don't -- what will happen to her children. Bill and Betty eventually realize that there may be something to be said, after all, for the unglamorous normality of suburban marriage.
As is fitting, the acting styles in the two plays differ. Paul Caouette is a campy, somewhat peevish Pluto, Eric Field a hapless shlemiel of an Orpheus. Suzanna Wellens's funny and determinedly unromantic Eurydice could be selling real estate. Baierlein himself plays Bill, with Sallie Diamond as Betty, in a lower-key, more realistic mode, and theirs is simply some of the best acting you'll find in Denver. Baierlein's Bill is mild and twitchy, but you see the flame shining through the conventional exterior when he describes Jason's mistress. Betty, too, is chatty, comfortable and capable of profound, if distorted, passions. This is the kind of acting that doesn't advertise itself: unostentatious, true to the bone, the work of two people who have been making theater together for twenty-eight years, and whose rhythms have merged into effortless harmony.
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