THE GODS OF COMEDY (McCarter Theatre): 60-second review

review image: George Psomas and Steffanie Leigh in Ken Ludwig's THE GODS OF COMEDY. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

George Psomas and Steffanie Leigh in Ken Ludwig’s THE GODS OF COMEDY. Scenic design: Jason Sherwood; lighting design: Brain Gale; costume design: Linda Roethke; wigs and makeup design: Carissa Thorlakson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

In this new Ken Ludwig comedy an uncirculated and irreplaceable Euripides manuscript has gone missing on a university campus on Homecoming Weekend. A new professor (Jevon McFerrin) had left the manuscript in the care of a professor and love interest (Shay Vawn). In a tizzy, she invokes ancient Greek gods to help her out. But she’s unspecific, and the gods she gets are (drum roll, please) THE GODS OF COMEDY. They are Dionysus (the inimitable Brad Oscar) and the muse, Thalia (Jessie Cannizzaro). Later they’re joined by conceited god, Ares (George Psomas). The university Dean (Keira Naughton), and an actress (Steffanie Leigh) complete the fine cast.  

Playwright Ken Ludwig and director Amanda Dehner turn ancient Greek theatre on its head with identity switches, innuendo, and too much spirited chasing. Reminiscent of Pseudolus’s song in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, “Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone, it’s Comedy Tonight,” this show feels like it really should be a musical for its sum to equal more than its parts. There’s music, but few songs and no live musical accompaniment. The broad strokes of a charming and clever comedy are hidden under an avalanche of frenetic activity. THE GODS OF COMEDY has a cast of excellent New York actors, marvelous costumes, good sound, and clever designers. And yet it feels like it’s running amok.

Still, it’s a collegiate fit for Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, as fun loving ancient gods mix it up with college profs. Full of good will and theatrical fluff, this World Premiere just needs sorting out.

[McCarter Theatre Center’s  Matthews TheatreMarch 12-31, 2019; mccarter.org

 

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Kathryn Osenlund, theater and film junkie, is a former National Critics Institute fellow, NEA fellow in Arts Journalism, and member of the American Theater Critics Assn Steinberg and Osborn playwriting awards committee. A Barrymore Award nominator and professor emeritus in communications and theater, Kathryn also writes for NY-based CurtainUp.com. On twitter @theatrendorphin.