The best way to begin this review is with a comment from my frequent theater companion Katrina about the shows we’ve seen over the past six months or so: “The number of shows we’ve been to where people either end up in their underwear or doing weird things with puppets is AMAZING.” And Mad Mad Hercules has not only added to that list, in both respects, but also has the distinction of being the funniest effing thing I have seen in years. YEARS. I never thought anything would top the unexpected stuffed animal orgy in Bat Boy, but this does. Over and over and over.
Local playwright Bennett Ayres has crafted one of the filthiest scripts I know of in a way that approaches a work of art. The crass and degradation is no holds barred, unapologetic, and a thing of beauty. I desperately wanted to write down some of the most inspired lines, but I was too busy trying not to cackle, cry, and pee myself all at the same time. My long-time friend, husband of Kat, and chauffer Paul said as we relayed some of our experience on the way home, laughing hysterically all over again, “I haven’t heard you laugh that hard in years, Miss Lisa.”
Needless to say, if you are easily offended, move down the avenue. Or, if you want to give it a try, there is a moment when the chorus pauses to give the conservative audience members an opt-out. However, if you don’t mind wallowing in the dirt for about ninety minutes, this is one of the best low-brow shows you can spend money on. I am actually considering if I can squeeze another performance into my schedule.
Presented by NoExit Performance in association with Zach Rosing Productions, the show can get away with the sort of fuck-you humor that really only the smaller theater companies can indulge. And thank the gods for them. I love the unlicked cubs that can be found in these companies (they make it worth slogging through other less successful outings).
So, as readers have probably inferred, the story is about the twelve labors of Hercules, a penance for killing his wife and children, which he claims was a product of a fit of madness laid upon him by his step-mother Hera. His exasperated father Zeus won’t intervene. So Hercules is assigned his tasks by King Eurystheus, whom Hercules glories in trading grade-school insults with.
Under the direction of Zach Neiditch, the cast takes the bull by the balls (Hercules sees nothing wrong with bestiality—it’s OK, calm down, we don’t see it first-hand) and rips into their roles with relish. Providing narrative is a Greek chorus, made up of Matthew Altman, Carrie Bennett Fedor, and Devan Mathias, a gossipy group that snipes at each other while providing commentary and filling in the blanks for the audience. Ryan Ruckman plays Hercules, a whiney, narcissistic drunk full of ennui who, during his first meeting with the closeted Iolaos, Nathan Thomas, a servant who will accompany Hercules on his quests, expects a hand job as if he’s asking Iolaos for a wrench. Ruckman’s Hercules reminds me of Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy in some ways. He plays tough, but under the wine skin and bravado, he finds the capability of something more . . . but it doesn’t dial down his raunchy that much. Ruckman is incredible, as is Thomas, his nervous but stalwart voice of reason with an adorable dirty dance.
Josiah McCruiston plays the sniffy, effeminate Eurystheus, the foil for Hercules, as a combination of self-important power with no self-confidence. Tony Armstrong as Zeus is the picture of the fed-up patriarch as Hercules rails against his evil but sexy step-mom Hera, Dena Toler, who seems to have a particular affinity for Trisha Yearwood. Finally, Beverly Roche is a riot as the sex-driven-Amazonian-queen-with-a-perpetual-yeast-infection Hippolyta.
The self-proclaimed low-budget props are actually quite impressive (as is the lighting), but, sadly, none of the puppets have sex (though I was poised for it during one shadow puppet scene).
The show lags about three-quarters of the way through, sort of like a Monty Python movie. I only took off that half star for it. However, it picks back up during the conversation about the consequences of dehydration due to copious copulation.
If you go, it might help to read a bit about the beings/things involved in Hercules’s trials. (Not much. Something like Wikipedia would do.) It’s not necessary, but it might help gloss over some of the events that aren’t portrayed visually. But even if you don’t, don’t let it stop you. While the show isn’t the “Disneyfication” of the tale, as the director points out, it still plays fast and loose with the originals. In a good way.
- Through May 5
- IndyFringe Basile Theatre
- $25; $18 students/seniors