By Carey Glitter
“Children have teachers to teach them; adults have playwrights,” says Aeschylus in Aristophanes’s Frogs. The statement strikes us as bizarre today, but it may not have seemed so unreasonable to Athenians in 405 BCE, when the play debuted. The idea of a whole society’s turning to its dramatists for moral and civic guidance was conceivable then. Fault Line Theatre’s energetic staging of Frogs strives to recreate that world.
Lest all of this sound too lofty, remember that this is a work of Aristophanes, which means that its elevated themes coexist with his signature brand of raucous comedy. The god Dionysus (Haas Regen), distraught over conditions in Athens, and the dearth of good poets there, ventures to Hades with his slave, Xanthias (Blake Segal), to find a dead playwright capable of saving the city. Their journey is filled with absurd set pieces, like the singing Frogs who exasperate Dionysus on his ferry ride to the underworld, and lots of scatological humor (“My … cup runneth over,” he says after soiling himself out of fear).
Fault Line Theatre’s mission statement identifies the company’s chief principle as fidelity to the text. This may account for the production’s most notable quality: its earnestness. No ironic commentary or radical interpretation here—just a straightforward, enthusiastic presentation of an ancient Greek entertainment. Under Aaron Rossini’s direction, this fresh-faced approach is ultimately winning.
Regen, as the effete and shallow Dionysus, and Segal, who channels an early twentieth-century slapstick comedian in his portrayal of Xanthias, work up an amusing master-slave rapport. The rest of the small cast do double duty in the many other roles. Karl Gregory’s austere Aeschylus and Craig Wesley Divino’s populist Euripides bring excitement to the poets’ contest that occupies the final third of the play: which dead tragedian will Dionysus take back to rescue Athens?
The showdown between the two playwrights is both the funniest and most stimulating section of Frogs. One gets to see the great Aeschylus and Euripides behave like bickering children, as Aristophanes uses their conflict to air provocative questions about aesthetics and politics. The first two thirds of his text, which rely heavily on silly gags, aren’t nearly as compelling as the last.
Fault Line launched a year ago, and the group manages with the material resources it has. Tristan Jeffers’s simple set, featuring a wooden platform with a red curtain, links ancient comedy to a more recent, familiar form: vaudeville. The Frogs’ outfit—green bathing suit and cap, yellow goggles, brown flippers, orange arm floats—is the highlight of Allison Crutchfield’s varied costume design.
The folkish, upbeat original music by Eric Thomas Johnson suits the production’s good-humored spirit. Indeed, it’s odd, and weirdly novel, to see a show put together by young people who seem totally unconcerned with being hip or edgy or knowing. They just want to do right by Aristophanes. His 2,500-year-old comedy, if not always hilarious to us, holds historical and political significance, and offers a rousing climax and, yes, some laughs, too. Here’s a nice way to experience it.
Original link here.