BWW Reviews: World Premiere of ZEUS IN THERAPY a Divinely Human Portrait of the Divine
I've always had the inclination that the line between man and God is infinitely small. In Greek mythology, that line is so small that the earthbound Mount Olympus is the home of the Gods, and the Gods often descend from their perch to mingle with humans. Moreover, the Gods have human emotions of anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, frustration, and lust. With that kind of storm, there are more than enough reasons to see a shrink. That's certainly the main point of Zeus in Therapy, Tutto Theatre Company's world premiere comedy based on the unpublished work of Douglass Stott Parker. It ain't easy being a God, and by extraction, it ain't easy being human, either.
The backstory of Zeus in Therapy is arguably as interesting as the show itself. The recently deceased Douglass Stott Parker was a Professor of Classics at UT-Austin for 40 years and penned several translations of ancient classics, including Lysistrata and The Wasps. In 1979, he began writing Zeus in Therapy, a series of verse monologues in which Zeus recounts the hardships and frustrations of his life to his mute psychologist. Though the cycle was never officially completed, by 1993 Parker had written 52 Zeus monologues. The work has never been published, and through a partnership with Parker's estate, Tutto Theater Company has created an episodic play around roughly 35 of the 52 monologues.
While the idea of a God lying on the couch in a therapist's office for over two hours may sound a bit dry, Zeus in Therapy is anything but, largely due to Parker's writing style and characterization of Zeus. Parker's version of Zeus is sarcastic, witty, self-deprecating, and modern. This is a Zeus who casually tosses out lines like, "Do you think I like being a walking card catalog for all creation?" and "I don't make the rules. Oh sh**! I forgot. I do." After a while, you begin to think of him less as a deity and more as the guy at the end of the bar who has had one too many and intends to tell you, through several unrelated stories, why his life sucks so much. The characterization and the wordplay that Parker gives us are unexpected, funny, and oddly moving.
Director Gary Jaffe's approach to the material, which borrows from classic and absurdist theatre styles, is imaginative and wonderfully in tune with Parker's monologues. As Parker's Zeus is more everyman than divine, Jaffe presents him in the form of ten actors, five men and five women, with a vast range in age and ethnicity. The decision is a bold and brilliant one. Individually, each and every performer gives a fantastic performance. Collectively, they make up a Greek Chorus with a modern twist. Moreover, having Zeus and all of the supporting characters in his life played by a larger company of actors allows Jaffe to keep the play moving. Zeus, in any of his forms, doesn't stay on the couch for long. There's plenty of action and movement throughout the piece, and the abstract set by Justin Cox, rich lighting by Natalie George, and whimsical videos by Kakii Keenan, Tracy Mullen, and Lee Webster add more color and beauty to the play.
Still, there is one small Achilles heel to the production. It's tough for an episodic show that relies on theme and idea rather than plot to capture the attention of the audience for over two hours. After four or five of the vignettes, you get the point. Being a God is tough, and Zeus is just like us. I'm not saying that the show should stop there, but it seems some trimming is in order. A 90 minute or 2 hour therapy session with no intermission may be more effective and pack more of a wallop.
But the issue of length aside, Zeus in Therapy is an exciting and interesting new work. Though Zeus may say, "An examined life is not worth living," it's certainly worth a trip to The Long Center to see him examine his.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
ZEUS IN THERAPY, produced by Tutto Theatre Company, plays The Rollins Studio Theater at The Long Center for the Performing Arts at 701 W. Riverside Dr, Austin 78704. Performances are Sunday 8/18 & Weds 8/21 - Sat 8/24 at 8pm and Sat 8/24 and Sun 8/25 at 4:30pm. Tickets are $14 for matinees, $21.50 for evenings, and $5-$30 sliding scale for Weds 8/21. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.tuttotheatre.org/