BWW Review: THE FROGS Leaps Into a Classic Battle to Prove Who is Best in His Art
THE FROGS by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes tells the story of the god Dionysus, who, despairing of the state of Athens' theatre, travels to Hades (the underworld) to bring the playwright Euripides back from the dead to take his righrful place as the best playwright.
In the modern incarnation presented by Infinite Jest Theatre Company, directed by its founder Collette Rutherford at the Meta Theater, Dionysus (the luminous Melodie Rivers), a spoiled, boozy socialite, drags her trusty slave Xanthias (young physical comedian Hudson Sanders) along for the ride to save Athenian theatre. Encountering Hercules (Sean Dwyer), revelers of the cult of Iacchus, a taunting refrain of frogs, and of course the dead, the two arrive in Hades only to find that an argument is being waged between Aeschylus (John Ogden, who also plays the wise boat operator Charon) and Euripides (Drew Fitzsimmons) over whom is the better playwright, worthy of the title "Best in His Art."
Rivers and Sanders make a great team, bouncing bawdy one-liners off each other with fluid ease throughout the first act. There is lots of slapstick humor, ranging from the famous "walk this way" physical gag to several modern references that kept the audience entertained and laughing. There are moments of true hilarity in the production, especially the tango seduction dance performed by Sanders and Markus Cummings. That scene alone is worth the price of admission!
Four musicians accompany the players, often bathed in red light signaling the heat of Hades thanks to lighting designer Bruce Starrett, with and Musical Director/Composer Doug Mattingly doing his best to create songs that forward the story. Rudimentary small-stage choreography by Branda Lock could use a bit of flash and flare.
Rutherford would be wise to tone down the yelling which seems to be the constant volume of everyone in the cast, making it difficult to completely focus on the dialogue. A little softness in delivery would make the lines a bit more understandable and interesting. This is the overwhelming problem in Act 2 with both Ogden and Fitzsimmons screaming their lines at each other, making it tedious to watch. The contest of wits and half-wits to crown the winner and ultimately determine who is up to the challenge of saving Athens and her theatre should be a lot more engaging rather than just a verbal fight scene at top volume.
Scenic designer Tristan Griffin's movable brick wall set pieces function well to designate location changes and allow for windows to open where the frog chorus appears. And Charon's foot-powered boat is a classically comical right out of Vaudeville.
The production is obviously a labor of love for the cast and crew and hopefully with a bit of artistic tweaking, will become one the audience will grow to love as well.
THE FROGS continues through November 22, 2015 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 3:00pm at the Meta Theatre located at 7801 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046 on Melrose (across from Fairfax High School). Full cast includes Markus Cummings, Sean Dwyer, Roslyn Dubberstein, Drew Fitzsimmons, Akaina Ghosh, Taylor Hawthorne, Christie Newby, John Ogden, Melodie Rivers, and Hudson Sanders. Tickets are $25 and may be ordered in advance on Brown Paper tickets or purchased at the door. Saturday, November 14 is Toga Night - wear your toga and get $10 off admission at the door.
Company info at www.infinitejesttheatrecompany.com
Hudson Sanders and Melodie Rivers