It’s not uncommon for people to call upon a higher power when looking for help, but as THE GODS OF COMEDY, now playing at The Old Globe, you may want to be specific in whose help you’re imploring.
In this case you may get the cheerful, but only mildly helpful Dionysus the god of comedy (as well as wine and revelry), and Thalia the Muse of Comedy who think adventure and chaos are great fun.
It all starts in Greece, with an introduction by a vendor (George Psomas) who is friendly, chatty, and seemingly channeling the vendor from the animated film “Aladdin” where he sets up the story. If you’re looking for adventure and a prospective magical item this is the man for the job. When Daphne (Shay Vawn) who is working on her upcoming thesis project, saves his sons from a potential accident he gives her a magical amulet that will allow her to call upon the gods of ancient Greece for help if she needs it.
Daphne’s colleague, a classic professor named Ralph (Jevon McFerrin) is on the trail of the long, lost Euripides play called “Andromeda” while in the country. She offers to help him and all thought of the amulet is forgotten.
When they return to their college campus Daphne keeps working on her project when Ralph surprises her with the manuscript. He found it mistakenly shelved somewhere (seems like over the thousands of years it existed someone should have caught this mistake, no?) and he gives it to Daphne for safe keeping. Naturally, it goes missing, and gets lost, shredded (the audience gasped when this happened, don’t hurt the books!) and becomes the McGuffin that drives the shows plot.
When Daphne realizes the book is gone she panics and while clutching her necklace calls out for help. In a triumphant entrance Dionysus (Brad Oscar) and Thalia (Jessie Cannizzaro) arrive ready to help as best they can in their own way. They even admit they tend to make mortals a little crazy. As Dionysus explains, “”When mortals are with us they start dreaming, they get wild, they want to explode!”
The Dean (Keira Naughton) has made the manuscript the star of that evening’s alumni fundraiser, and is of interest to movie star alumni Brooklyn (Steffanie Leigh). So now the Daphne and Ralph have to find this manuscript before the function is over in order to avoid having to admit they no longer have it.
Also, the fundraiser is conveniently a costume gala with a theme of Ancient Greece, so any Greek gods that happen to be wandering around can blend in more easily. So when Ares arrives (also Psomas) no one thinks it’s odd, and pursues the beautiful movie star who he sees at the gala, everyone just thinks he is really in character.
As Dionysus falls in love with cheeseburgers, and the overall decadence that is a modern college campus, Thalia is spilling the tea on the famous men from history that she has *ahem* been acquainted with over the years. Meanwhile, Ralph and Daphne are trying to find the manuscript.
Cannizarro and Oscar bring the comedic charm as the titular gods with their scene stealing energy. McFerrin and Vawn have the more difficulty task of being more of the straight men to the comedic hijinks of these gods, but they both have their moments to bring the laughs.
Psomas is delightful a variety of roles including the Greek vendor, the sweet but trouble making janitor, and Ares the god of war. Naughton is funny as the baffled Dean, but has a standout moment as Thalia pretending to be the Dean. Leigh is gorgeous as Brooklyn the movie star who is trying to win over Ralph for the lead in the newly unearthed play, but also has a moment for her vocals to shine as she belts “Tomorrow” from ANNIE.
Jason Sherwood‘s scenic design gives them a gorgeous Greek courtyard, a professors library, and an open campus to play upon throughout the show. Lighting by Brian Gale keeps everything bright and vibrant for all of the shenanigans.
There are witty exchanges, funny moments, mistaken identities, and some over the top comedic hijinks the show has all the hallmarks of a Ken Ludwig show. It lacks a bit of forward motion and heart; we don’t leave knowing much more about the characters than we did when it started. It may not be as memorable as past Ludwig properties, but the audience around me enjoyed it and laughed from beginning to end.
THE GODS OF COMEDY is a great way to kick start a summer with some laughs, some adventure, and a happy ending. It comes with a good lesson as well; be careful of what souvenirs you bring home with you from your summer trip, you never know what mischief they may cause!