‘Twins,’ at Pianofight: a world premiere written and directed by Stuart Bousel (****)

by Charles Kruger

Kyle Goldman as Apollo and Kathleen McHatton as Artemis in the world premiere of Stuart Bousel’s “Twins” at PianoFight. Photo Credit: Andy Gold
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Prolific local playwright and director Stuart Bousel admits to being a Greek geek. This does not refer to his college fraternity, but to Greek mythology, gods, goddesses, titans, and all that jazz.

With “Twins,” he takes on the story of Apollo and Artemis—God of the Sun, Goddess of the Moon, children of Zeus by Leto, Goddess of Motherhood. If you are like me, you associate Apollo with all that is beautiful and good, and imagine Artemis, Goddess of Chastity, as strong, yet gentle, a fierce and loving guardian of young women.

Well . . . yes . . . but . . .

There is the little matter of the murders. There was the time when the hunter Actaeon accidentally sighted Artemis bathing in the nude. Not pleased, she turned him immediately into a stag. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she then had him hunted down and torn apart by his own hounds. Sweet, right? And Apollo, God of Light is also the God of Plagues.

Together, the twins committed a far more heinous crime than hunting down Actaeon or calling a plague down upon enemies: they slaughtered more than a dozen babies with bow and arrow. Why? Because the babies’ mother, Niobe, had boasted of her fertility as compared to the twins’ Mom, Leto, who had only the two of them.

A dozen plus babies.

That is the sort of arithmetic that might make one wonder about the fitness of Greek mythology as stories for children.

When Bousel decided to take on the twins, he approached the material as “a homicidal comedy,” first cutting these gods down to size with silliness before delivering the shocking denouement.

His point? Well, besides providing entertainment (which he does, very nicely) he seems to be speaking of the complexity of human emotion and how we can all at once be divine and silly, and dangerous, and cruel. In fact, the Greek gods are not distant. They are us.

The result is a very funny play. These gods and goddesses are not exactly exalted.

Consider this bit of dialogue between Artemis and her nurse, Rhea. Artemis, not yet a day old, is waiting for her mother to give birth to her twin Apollo. Rhea tells Artemis that she is ready to learn the truth: “Your mother is trash. Titan trash.”

When Artemis (protectress of virginity, remember?) declares she never wants to marry, Rhea voices her approval like this: “Marriages are prisons. Prisons with babies. Unless your husband eats your babies. And then it’s just a prison.”

Delivered with a dead pan matter-of-factness, this is surprisingly funny.

In the scenes that follow, leading up to the tragic end, Bousel and his actors skewer the gods every which way but Sunday. They speak in ridiculous vaudeville accents, sometimes sounding like Mama’s Family, then, moments later, like Monthy Python blurting out nonsense in the accents of upper class brits.

The supreme (of course) seasoning in this divine Greek gumbo is the very, very funny Kyle Goldman as Apollo. Tall, beautiful, and goofy in a ridiculous blonde wig and loin cloth, Goldman combines the grace of a ballet dancer with the goofiness (and comedic acting chops) of Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster.  Without Goldman’s superb balancing act, which makes this ridiculous figure surprisingly human and even touchingly authentic, it is difficult to believe this piece would succeed. It is as if he was sent to this production like a blessing from the gods.

Goldman is matched by a very good ensemble. As a rather Goth-ish Artemis, Kathleen McHatton gives a solidly crafted performance. Tonya Narvaez is a hoot and half in a trinity of parts: Leto, Hera, and Niobe. The rest of the cast is appropriately goofy without losing the thread of the story.

And a great story it is, with a tragic ending that lands as a surprise. While presenting the gods as funny and ridiculous, Bousel does not forget that the tale is one of infanticide and horror, and he knows better than to make light of the implications.

“Twins” is an interesting, fun, and thoughtful play that is thoroughly enjoyable on multiple levels.

“Twins” delivers its FINAL PERFORMANCE TONIGHT, Saturday, June 10th, at PianoFight. For further information, click here.

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“Twins” by Stuart Bousel, world premiere produced by PianoFight. Director: Stuart Bousel. Costumes: Lindsey Eifert. Sound: Ryan Lee Short. Lighting: William Campbell.

Cast:

Nigel/Pan/Orpheus: Andrew Chung. Iris/Coronis/Cassandra: Laura Domingo. Apollo: Kyle Goldman. Artemis: Kathleen McHatton. Eros/Actaeon/Troilus: Kyle McReddie. Leto/Hera/Niobe: Tanya Narvaez. Marpessa/Rhea/Selene: Kim Saunders. Zeuss/Orion/Asclepsius:Rob Talbot.

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