KPBS AIRDATE: February 28, 2003
Hubris. Pride. Arrogance. Whatever you call it, it sparks self-destruction, whether in Greek tragedy, Wagnerian opera, police melodrama… or presidential policies. Two outstanding productions, “Detective Story” and “Berzerkergang,” a classic and a world premiere, show us gods and monsters and the dire consequences of overly righteous indignation.
Sledgehammer Theatre’s artistic director, Kirsten Brandt, went beyond Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ for her “Berzerkergang” source material, back to the Icelandic sagas, Norse myths and German epic poems that were the composer’s inspiration. Then she took the timeless tale of the prideful god Wotan and his loving but hapless daughter, the Valkyrie Brunhilde, and transported them to corporate America. Her Wotan is a soulless CEO; Fricka is his frustrated, dissipated corporate wife; Brunhilde, daughter of the magical, mystical earth-mother Erda, begins as Wotan’s second in command, but his pride and her loving heart cause her downfall. The coveted ring, that source of greed and envy, is a solid-gold CD.
With all her poetic ramblings, wild imaginings and topical references, Brandt has stayed surprisingly close to the original story. Whether you’re knowledgeable or not, it’s all there: the dwarf, the dragon, the giants, even Valhalla, which has morphed from a mythological hall of heroes into a 98-story office complex. And it all works excellently, except for the Berzerkergang, an ill-defined corps of drugged thugs that fails to serve the story. But everything else clicks. The stylized, provocative, choreographically precise direction of Jessa Watson and Michael Severance has Brandt’s creative energy all over it. David Lee Cuthbert’s lighting is another triumph, as is the sound design of Jeff Mockus and Corey Johnston’s costumes. All the performances are spine-tingling, especially Laura Lee Juliano as Brunhilde, Ruff Yeager as Wotan and Janet Hayatshahi as the enigmatic Erda. This is inventive theater of mythic proportion… brash, bold and courageous.
It takes courage to be a cop, too, and in 1949, playwright Sidney Kingsley daringly captured the guts and grind of a day in the life of New York’s finest, with his “Detective Story.” It was the forerunner of every police program on TV, prescient in dealing with hot-potato topics like abortion. Lawlessness features in the criminals and the force, as a self-righteous officer stands tall in the film-noir half-light and slowly self-destructs. This is Lamb’s Players Theatre at its very best, a finely nuanced ensemble production, beautifully designed and directed, gorgeously costumed, and splendidly acted by a huge cast that digs deep into every well-etched character.
Listen, Shweetheart, you miss these productions at your own risk.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.