Consumed by Cyclops

4 04 2011

Biting into the LA theater scene with vivid reimaginings of classic texts, Psittacus Productions invites the audience along for a wild, provocative ride. “You have no choice but to be consumed,” says company member Liz Saydah. Their newest work reinvents the only remaining Greek satyr play as the raucous Cyclops: A Rock Opera. After a critically-acclaimed run at Son of Semele, Cyclops is transferring to the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse from April 7 – May 8.

Cyclops is as far from a “straight play” as you could ever desire. Historically, a satyr play would cap off the Greek Festival of Dionysus. After a day of tragedies, a chorus of drunken, horny Satyrs would ravish the audience with a ribald display of subversive excess; the narrative and form were a carnivalesque upending of the day’s earlier tragedies. What better genre to capture this pleasurable excess than a contemporary gender- and genre-bending rock opera? With musical muses like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury alongside theatrical inspirations like Rocky Horror Show and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Cyclops is primed to become a cult classic – and the tight-knit ensemble couldn’t be happier.

Developed in Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival, Cyclops stems from a productive collision of worlds: classical theater and rock music. Many of Psittacus’ classically-trained actors, such as Madeleine Hamer and Paul Corning, embarked on the project with limited backgrounds in musical performance, but they embraced the experimental, Dionysian spirit of the piece with panache. Corning reconnected with his bass-playing skills to join the Satyr band and found to his surprise, “The practice of singing frees you physically.” For composers Jayson Landon Marcus and Benjamin Sherman, the experience was reversed; rooted in rock, they were thrilled to write for specific narrative and characters. Taking on the title role of the Cyclops, Marcus discovered a dynamic bridge between his rock band persona and this new theatrical character.

Cyclops: A Rock Opera began as a “dude-driven” project. The satyrs gathered in December 2010 to adapt the text (Euripides’ original play via the 19th century translation by Percy Bysshe Shelley) and compose the score, but Dionysus has offered them “serendipitous nuggets of joy” throughout the rehearsal and production process.  Under the direction of Louis Butelli, Chas LiBretto, and Robert Richmond, Cyclops began shifting and evolving with the physical components of the Son of Semele production, including the specific bodies inhabiting the stage.

At least three new songs are being added to the Pasadena transfer, including more material for the maenads. Originally cast as back-up singers, the company’s three women brought a new halo of radiance to the piece; for the transfer, their roles have been amplified in “show-stopping moments of feminine time,” according to Saydah. With scanty costumes and nymph-like energy, Cyclops releases the women’s sexuality – but in a liberating rather than objectifying manner, which Hamer observes is all-too-common in LA’s entertainment industry. In fact, the sexuality of the entire company – male and female – is refreshingly open and fluid.

Blame it on the wild excesses of Dionysus, whose central positioning Butelli calls “very Greek.” Dionysus does seem to have showered a divine presence on Psittacus Productions’ latest work, whose infectious songs penetrate the audiences’ bodies and invoke them to join the freeing ritual performance. According to Marcus, Cyclops: A Rock Opera “takes aside the rules of life and just lets you feel happy,” channeling “pure cosmic energy” in a vibrant, communal theatrical experience. At least for the night, audiences can be consumed in an exuberant, alternative musical universe.

(Edited version for EDGE Los Angeles)

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22 08 2011
Heavier than … Cyclops: A Rock Opera? « Sarah Taylor Ellis

[…] encounter with the one-eyed Polyphemus. (I have previously written about it here … and here … and here … and here … with a little overture here.) Based on Euripides’ […]

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