The Grecian Formula
nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
August 12, 2008
The Grecian Formula is a play that reminds you what it means, in the best of all possible worlds, to be an audience member. Within the first 15 minutes, you know you are in good hands: there will be no bracing for bouts of cliché, no quiet forgiving of the "almost-there" moment. Nope, all you have to do is pay attention and enjoy, and easing into this role feels as right as every other detail of this stellar production.
Set in Ancient Athens, sort of, the play tells the story of the first drama, born of a contest sponsored by the ruling tyrant to distract the populace from revolt. But with a cheerful anachronistic spirit, what we get is a send-up of contemporary American culture, with the theatre as the most frequent target. Broadway in particular gets it bad, with the drive for profit artfully mocked in rhymed odes and the Golden Phallus (the trophy awarded to the prize-winning play) at one point compared to a Tony.
Carter Anne McGowan's script is unflaggingly energetic, quick-witted, and filled with refreshing asides. While no one—from producer to theatre critic—is spared from parody, the hero of the story is a writer, the author of the first drama (played by the versatile Todd Lawson). A talented slave belonging to an untalented bard, he is coerced into ghostwriting for the sake of his family. But despite the writer's nobility in this cosmos, McGowan even teases herself in her role as author, making The Narrator question his purpose in the story, while her playwright hero declares devices as tiresome and takes over the action.
Fortunately, the company is up to a sparkling delivery. Director Mary Jo Lodge has created a complete aesthetic on stage. A playful tone is at once established (witness the Greek wedding dancing in between scenes), building consistently to an over-the-top, hilarious finale. The approach is Shakespearean, with actors giving full attention to wordplay and embellishing lines with their own talents. Anthony Cochrane is in full command as the pragmatic dictator and Kevin Carolan brings a subtly comic edge to the role of boring bard. Jason Pintar, primarily playing a member of the tyrant's security detail, also manages to make diverse ensemble roles uniquely funny.
The Grecian Formula is highly recommended as a sophisticated comedy, and for theatre aficionados with a sense of humor, it's not to be missed.