Fractured Greeks: Great Deeds, Human Follies Fractured Greeks

Local Arts Reviews


Fractured Greeks: Great Deeds, Human Follies

The Vortex,

through May 27

Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min

Every year the Vortex Workshop brings together VORTEX Repertory Company members and other local actors to "train, play, work, write, experiment, and perform together." The weekly workshop begins in October and often takes some all-encompassing theme as its jumping-off point. Scenes are developed and rehearsed, and by May the group is ready to strut its stuff for an audience in a limited run of what is clearly much more than a work-in-progress.

This year's effort features scenes that hail from various Greek tragedies, mostly revolving around characters that people the Trojan War plays by Euripides, Sophocles, and Shakespeare (okay, so he's not Greek, but included in the program is the prologue to his Trojan War play Troilus and Cressida). Also on the bill are just as many scenes written by workshop participants that, for the most part, deftly mock and re-create those same tragic characters and their war-wracked, gods-besodden lives. If any company in Austin is equipped to handle the mythological heft of the Greek tragedies, it is VORTEX, and under the direction of Bonnie Cullum, this fractured collection holds together pretty well.

The evening is structured like a Greek tragedy, with a prologue followed by a steady revelation of scenes in a mostly historical order. Following the prologue, Cullum wisely uses overlapping scene shifts to keep the action moving, although more than once the language of a new scene is so like that of its predecessor, it takes a moment to realize the switch has been made. Among the highlights of the 14-scene show: Dan Bisbee's The Recruiter, in which Ajax comes calling for General Odysseus, only to find that Odysseus appears to have lost his mind and is hell-bent on gardening rather than heading off to war. The piece is as rollickingly funny as it is ultimately tragic. Stephanie Swenson's three-part monologue Foxy Ladies includes a brilliant bit for Helen of Troy, reputedly the most beautiful woman in history, of whom not a shred of physical evidence remains. Stephen Fay's Necessary Sacrifices takes an exceptionally complicated story to its intriguing, structural extremes.

"Fractured" aptly describes the entertainment quotient of a production that relies on such a variety of skill levels among so large an ensemble. Interestingly, each actor is assigned characters which he or she then portrays in subsequent scenes. Elizabeth Doss (Electra/Paris/Diomedes), David Saldaña (Ajax/Aphrodite/Ares), Amie Elyn (Helen), and Dan Bisbee (Odysseus) are equally adept in scenes tragic and comic. Clay Towery is hilarious as the Bard in Bisbee's version of The Odyssey, and Swenson's Hecuba remains approachable and human even in her unfathomable grief. The entire ensemble takes as its cue a reverence for the material mixed with a healthy dose of self-deprecation: To take these scenes too seriously would make for a very long night of theatre. Alternating straight scenes and ensemble-penned parodies and homages keeps things mostly lively, although there's a tendency for the scenes to last just that little bit too long.

The all-white palette by costume designer Kari Perkins and set designer Ann Marie Gordon is simple and effective, and the colorful lighting of Zach Murphy helps create an otherworldly atmosphere where great deeds are done and human (and divine) follies are explored, and skewered, with commitment and passion.

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Fractured Greeks, VORTEX Repertory Company, Vortex Workshop, Bonnie Cullum, Dan Bisbee, Stephanie Swenson, Stephen Fay, Elizabeth Doss, David Saldaña, Amie Elyn, Clay Towery, Kari Perkins, Ann Marie Gordon, Zach Murphy

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