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Wednesday, May 21,2014

Curtain call: Four shamed

New theater troupe debuts one-acts dedicated to disgraced Greek figures

by Shawn Parker
The debut of the new Ixion Theatre Ensemble features a quartet of one-act plays written by Lansing-area playwrights rooted in Greek mythology. The theme was inspired by engravings by a 16th century Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius , with each of the titular disgracers suffering a fall, either figurative or literal. The common link is that each one is a mortal who tried to enter the realm of the gods and was punished for doing so.

The contemporary reimaginings are individually compelling, but the whole is ultimately less than the sum its parts.

The first script in “The Four Disgracers” is based on the myth of Phaethon. He was punished for “borrowing” the chariot of his father, the sun god Helios, and losing control of it, nearly destroying the Earth. “Distance to the Son,” by O.G. Uberrroth, sets up a birthday meeting between Pate (Joseph Mull) and his oft-delayed father Helios (Rico Bruce Wade), who takes the form of a soldier busy manipulating conflicts around the world. Wade plays Helios aloof, then fatherly. The result feels less like character trait than a tonal inconsistency.

The second piece recounts the myth of Tantalus, who killed his son and tried to serve him as a dish to the gods. “A Tantalizing Menu,” by Sarah Hauck, envisions the scenario as a dinner party. The lecherous Zeus ogles, paws at and insults Athena, Demeter and Hera before things take a turn toward the macabre. Kris Vitols plays Tantalus as a trembling, jittery near-cretin, a role he disappears in with impressive results.

The third story updates the tale of Ixion, who killed his father-in-law and slept with one of Zeus’ wives. “Empty,” by Brad Rutledge, is the weakest entry, which envisions the meeting of Zeus and Ixion as a tense, dinner table meeting between a Mafia boss and his lieutenant. Inconsistent accents, overreliance on dialogue and an attempt at menace that winds up at caricature prevent the piece from gelling. An awkward grasp at relevance in the denouement doesn’t help the proceedings.

The final segment takes a different perspective on the most well known of the disgracers, Icarus, the boy with the wax wings who flew too close to the sun. “Icarus Flying,” by A.S. Freeman, features Paige Dunckel as Icarus’ mother, whose moving soliloquy is the highlight and emotional center of the show. Vulnerable, hurt and brave, she recounts her son’s doomed flight in heartrending fashion.

Ueberroth’s original music, stirringly performed by Marian Wilson, threads between the individual plays and serves as vital connective tissue. “The Four Disgracers” is an engaging examination of hubris with striking moments and bursts of humor, but, like the central characters in this show, its reach just exceeds its grasp.

“The Four Disgracers”

Ixion Theatre Ensemble AA Creative Corridor 1133 S. Washington Ave., Lansing 8 p.m. Thursday, May 22; 4 & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 24 $15 (517) 775-4246, ixiontheatre.com

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