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To contextualize Soren Oliver’s “Demetrius Unbound (or the Homeric Midlife Crisis),” those familiar with Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” need only remember the title character as one of the four lovers subjected to Puck’s pixie dust. Demetrius was tricked into marrying Helena, rather than Hermia, who had been promised by her father.
The story picks up twenty years later in ancient Athens, when we learn that as chicken supplier to King Theseus, Demetrius is “Lord of the Fowl,” a designation that becomes fodder for several plays on words. Trapped in a comfortable but loveless marriage, he learns how he was tricked and uses that revelation to divorce Helena and pursue Hermia, a quest that leads to complications.
The script has many humorous moments, some more farcical than witty, others vice versa. Which parts work best may depend on the viewer’s preference. A classic door-slamming sequence is well choreographed, but the set undermines the comedic impact as actors blast through one flimsy door and three curtains.
The production is marred by unevenness and lack of focus, although the story line remains clear. Much of Act 1 deals with Demetrius’ apparent struggle with a succubus. The remainder of the play explores the impact upon the characters of previously made decisions and the resulting rearrangement of their relationships, producing some unexpected and humorous consequences.
Many audience members will enjoy the clever Greek and Shakespearian references, but there is also an interesting overlay of modern attitudes and values to which we Californians can relate. Along the way, humorous anachronisms are introduced concerning health care coverage, computational technology, abusive banking, and the hard-for-the-playwright-to-resist, Nike footwear, swoosh and all. The inclusion of modern day feminism, transgenderism, and immigrant labor give some spine and purpose to the humor. However, the Motown music that plays during the scene changes is one modern element whose pupose escapes me, though I did find myself humming along to the tunes.
“Demetrius Unbound” is the inaugural production of Bare Flag Theatre, for which the company has attracted a capable professional cast, most of whom have dual roles. Each actor rises to the occasion, although some interactions could be crisper. Stacy Ross plays Helena with her usual brightness and sense of clarity. In the grittier roles of Hermia and Pythia, Delia MacDougal also shines. Gendell Hing-Hernandez’s Puck is a frenetic whirlwind of action.
The surprise performance comes from the playwright, Soren Oliver, himself, as Demetrius. Stepping into the lead role after the cmpany lost its lead actor only a week before opening, Oliver acquits himself well. The other actors — Robert Sicular, Dodds Delzell, Jordan Winer, and Molly Benson — all performed nicely.
As with many world premiers, this work may not have its final polish, but it is thoughtful, produces many laughs, and will likely improve over the run.
“Demetrius Unbound (or the Homeric Midlife Crisis)” plays at Live Oak Theater, Berkeley, through August 22. For further information click here.
“Demetrius Unbound (or the Homeric Midlife Crisis)” by Soren Oliver. Director: Cliff Mayotte. Scenic Design: Martin Flynn. Lighting Design: Kate Boyd. Sound Design: Chris Houston. Costume Design: Maggi Yule. Fight Choreography: Andrea Weber.
Demetrius: Soren Oliver. Helena: Stacy Ross. Hermia/Pythia: Delia MacDougall. Snug/Melpomene: Dodds Delzell. Puck/Theseus: Gendell Hing-Hernandez. Head Priest/Philostrate: Robert Sicular. Naxos: Molly Benson. Augur/Oikonomia/Poseidon: Jordan Winer.
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