nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 8, 2007
Mettawee River Theatre Company is back once again this year with another fantastic offering. Ralph Lee and his crew have created an extremely inventive and very charming adaptation of Aristophanes's classical comedy Peace and you only have two more chances to catch it under the trees in the garden of St. John the Divine.
Written during a brief period of peace in fifth century Greece, the play follows a man who has decided to go to Mount Olympus in order to take his grievances to the gods. However, the only available mode of transportation to the realm of the gods is Giant Dung Beetle. When he finally arrives, he finds the place practically abandoned by the gods who have moved off to greener pastures and sublet heaven to War and Greed. War and Greed in turn bury Peace under a huge pile of garbage. The man elicits the help of locals (and young audience members) to help him attempt to rescue Peace. If he's successful he'll win the hand of Abundance, handmaiden to Peace.
Lee is well known for his mask and puppet designs and he certainly does not disappoint with this show. Lee's designs are always very detailed but also sensible and simplistic, turning found objects into legs and eyes. The Giant Dung Beetle has a large spoon for a nose while Greed's nose is bigger than the actor playing him. War has a bicycle fender screwed to a scoop light for a helmet. All of the actors wear masks. Some of these are wonderfully designed two-piece masks; a beard part attached to the jaw with eyes and nose attached to the face. Peace is a beautiful, giant head on the end of a 20-foot pole. My favorite was Abundance, whose cheeks are so perfectly, joyously chubby.
Lee's direction of this production is very open and inviting. The actors address the audience and the audience addresses them. They pull kids out of the audience to help them pull the rope that will lift the trash off Peace. The actors, outfitted with gigantic heads, are free to explore their range of movement and they find many hilarious moments. There are several funny, toe-tappers accompanied by live music. The musicians, Sam Kulik and Ian Antonio, leave their little enclave and join the action on several occasions. They are terrific playing everything from a muted trombone to a toy piano.
Clarke Jordan's adapted script is funny and full of insightful quips and a few cultural references. The actors—Angela DiVeglia, Kim Gambino, Kevin Lawler, Tom Marion, Jan-Peter Pedross, and Clea Rivera—are cohesive and versatile. They sing, they dance, they animate their masks and costumes. I enjoyed their energy.
This is a great show to take in sitting on a blanket with your shoes off. It's fun and imaginative and not around much longer so check it out.