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The king of the gods, having chained Prometheus to a rock at 14th and P Streets NW, has moved up the street four blocks. He’s going by the name Jupiter at the Source Theatre—not Zeus, as at Studio—and no one’s likely to confuse the actors playing him in those two locations. But there’s no question he’s the same thundering guy under the robes: authoritarian, self-absorbed, a busybody in the lives of mortals, apt to hurl lightning bolts when crossed.
Oddly, that doesn’t keep anyone from crossing him. In Prometheus, the Greek tragedy at Studio, the title character won’t stop arguing with Zeus even after being figuratively sent to his room for two millenniums. In Amphitryon 38, the modern comedy now being put on by the Washington Stage Guild, Jupiter’s much-vaunted powers have even less effect on Alkmena, the happily married woman he expects to bear his son Hercules. When he tries to wow her with his accomplishments—the creation of earth, fire, water, and air, for a start—she’s underwhelmed. Far more impressive in her eyes is her husband, Amphitryon, the great Theban general who, she says, “enlarged the capacity of my pantry shelves.”
What’s a poor god to do? Well, this one decides to go undercover—and under the covers—disguised as Amphitryon while the general is abroad fighting a war.
“I have a nostalgia for mortality,” Jupiter (Morgan Duncan) tells his son Mercury (Jason Stiles), as he prepares to slip into Alkmena’s bed without her knowledge. After the fact, he’s less entranced by the notion of experiencing the difficulties and delights of mere mortals, however—especially when he makes the mistake of asking Alkmena (Colleen Delany) what she thought of the evening’s lovemaking.
“Pleasant,” she replies with a smile. “Connubial.”
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Not quite the effect he’d hoped for. Playwright Jean Giraudoux arranges a series of complications—Mercury announces the liaison to the winds just as Jupiter is deciding to keep it private; Amphitryon returns unexpectedly and is mistaken for the usurping Jupiter; and Leda (of “…and the Swan” fame) pops by to muddy domestic waters still further—all of which are handled agreeably by a cast that is as pleasantly offhand as it is amusing. Director Bill Largess has clearly urged everyone not to push, and the result is an evening that grows on the audience as it progresses. The opening scene seems a bit too relaxed, what with the gods chortling at what fools these mortals be. (Jupiter occasionally quotes Shakespeare, who won’t, he concedes, be along for a few more centuries.) But as each succeeding scene grows more emotionally complex, the casual approach is increasingly what keeps the comedy buoyant.
S.N. Behrman’s adaptation of Giraudoux’s French original was crafted as a star vehicle for the Lunts, and if the Stage Guild can’t count on their sort of theatrical royalty to brighten the proceedings, it does have performers who are long on charm. Duncan has been reliably amusing in the troupe’s Shavian efforts and is no less so here, inspiring easy affection as he becomes the world’s most henpecked deity. Lynn Steinmetz’s fussy Leda is also a comic asset, and Delany is a thoroughgoing delight as Alkmena—practical (“Get up…you’ll be late for your war!”) and common-sensical enough to bring the most flighty god or husband down to earth.
Largess’ decision to have several actors double in minor roles creates a few infelicities that must be lip-synched around in the final scene, but by that time, most patrons will have laughed enough to be willing to put up with a small distraction or two.
Though the language of thievery has been ornate since the days of Damon Runyon, Billy Tymes still qualifies as something of a poet. A small-time bank robber by profession, he describes himself in Eric Lucas’ one-man show, Precious Lam’, as being in the “currency allocation trade.” The jail that holds him is “a fresh brick building the color of disdain, painted with squalor,” and an Irish gypsy with whom he shares a cell “falls on the social scale between nothing and whatever’s after that.”
Should Billy ever give up larceny, he clearly has a promising future as a wordsmith. In the meantime, he’s excellent company at Theater on the Run, where he’s half of a double-bill by the Keegan Theatre’s co-founder, resident playwright, and sometime leading man. Lucas—who adopts a persuasive Irish accent and an air of studied nonchalance to play Billy—isn’t really doing much more than letting the character chronicle his days in the slammer and the marginally freer life he lives when he gets out. Billy, who fancies himself a bit of a philosopher, likes to demystify the mechanics of robbing banks (“Nature isn’t complicated, and physics works”), and he has a ball impersonating the various folks who torment him, including an unctuously patronizing prison warden. Although you can’t accuse the playwright of overloading Precious Lam’ with plot, it certainly qualifies as a nifty character portrait.
The curtain-raiser, Waiting for the Slow Dance, observes four Irish boys at a ’50s sock hop as they gaze with a mix of apprehension and longing at the girls on the other side of the dance hall. Wise-beyond-his-years Tommy (Ben Van Dyne) spins stories of love gone wrong that don’t sit well with Gerry (Stephen Lam), an eager, puppyish lad who can’t get over the fact that his sweetie has recently let him touch her left breast. Lady’s man Des (Robb Welsh) does terrific John Wayne impressions while trying to avoid the eye of a girl he may have gotten pregnant. Their buddy Cor (Joe Baker) unrequitedly pines for that same girl—and is too shy to confess his infatuation to the others. Again, Lucas hasn’t provided much in the way of story, but his writing is colorful, and the characters emerge vividly and with enormous humor in Mark A. Rhea’s uncluttered, slightly wistful staging. CP