Monday, September 12, 2022

Nothing But Thunder - Gods Behaving Badly

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo credit: Duncan Pflaster Photography and Graphic Design

Dionysus.  God of theatre and wine.  Son of Zeus.  A man who can drive women to the heights of ecstasy or madness.  And a complete spoiled brat.

In Duncan Pflaster's latest classically-inspired romp, NOTHING BUT THUNDER, Dionysus (Spencer Gonzalez) has a chance to fulfill his greatest desire - to finally ascend to Olympus and become a full god.  To do so, all he has to do is find his dead mother in Tartarus, where she is being tortured for sleeping with Zeus and offending his wife Hera, and bring her back to the land of the living.

A difficult feat, to be sure, but one that other demigods have accomplished.  The only thing standing between him and his goal is his own hubris, and a burly shepherd, Prosymnus (Kenny Wade Marshall), with an eye for beautiful men, who knows exactly what Dionysus needs to become the god he is meant to be, instead of the self-serving hedonist that he has always been.

Kenny Wade Marshall (L) as Prosymnus and Spencer Gonzalez (R) as Dionysus

Helped by his loyal, sardonic slave Xanthias (Matt Biagini), his former wife Ariadne (Olivia Kinter), and eventually his mother Semele, (Alyssa Simon) Dionysus travels a road to self-discovery that leads to an unexpected, but ultimately fulfilling climax.

NOTHING BUT THUNDER once again demonstrates playwright Duncan Pflaster's talent for making modern plays in classical styles.  As he did with his Shakespeare-inspired sequels, THE THYME OF THE SEASON and MALVOLIO'S REVENGE, or his Chekhovian comedy THE STARSHIP ASTROV, Pflaster demonstrates his gift for comedy, his talent for capturing the spirit of the genre or playwright, and especially in this play, his gift for raunchy and extremely witty humor.  There is plenty of X-rated wordplay in NOTHING BUT THUNDER, and a fair amount of nudity, too.

Spencer Gonzalez as Dionysus

The cast does a marvelous job, with most of the actors portraying multiple characters and serving as the chorus.  Biagini hits just the right notes as the often put-upon servant of Dionysus.  With a sly smile, he often scores a point or two on his master, not that Dionysus is self-aware enough to realize.  Gonzalez, as Dionysus, shows remarkable range as his character develops.  The Dionysus he presents in the final scenes is such a far cry from the callow youth he starts out as. His portrayal of Dionysus's sinuous sexuality, and his utter bewilderment when it that sexuality doesn't seem to work on Prosymnus and his down-to-earth sister Adelpha (played with sly wink by Katrina Dykstra), is a delight to watch.  Kenny Wade Marshall's Prosymnus is more than what he first appears, and Marshall does a great job portraying the man and the mentor that Dionysus needs, as well as Hades in later scenes.  Alyssa Simon is a stellar Semele, especially in her quieter moments of the play when she starts to realize the pitfalls of being alive again and where she might finally fit in.  Olivia Kinter likewise does a great job as Ariadne, as complex a woman as would be expected for someone like Dionysus.

Rounding out the cast is Eric Hedlund who plays Hermes, Zeus and a scene-stealing Sisyphus (with rock).  A dynamic physical actor, he add movement and drama to his many scenes.

As is typical both for festivals and opening nights, there were some technical issues and the timing seemed a bit off, but frankly nothing that won't get evened out as the performances move forward.   Director Aliza Shane goes big with her direction, the play is full of movement, both in terms of utilizing the space, and in how the actors perform.  They bend, they move, the come together in posed portraits, and when they are still they command attention.  It is kinetic and fascinating to watch.

NOTHING BUT THUNDER is another worthy addition to Plaster's body of work.  Presented as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City, remaining performances are Wednesday, September 14th and Sunday, September 18th.

Written by Duncan Pflaster
Directed by Aliza Shane
Assistant Director/Stage Manager Roberto Alexander
Intimacy & Fight Consultant Sharon Litwinoff
Photography and Graphic Design by Duncan Pflaster

Matt Biagini - Xanthias
Katrina Dykstra - Adelpha / Chorus 1
Olivia Kinter - Ariadne / Dryad / Chorus 2
Alyssa Simon - Semele / Chorus 3
Spencer Gonzalez - Dionysus
Eric Hedlund - Hermes / Sisyphus / Zeus / Chorus 4
Kenny Wade Marshall - Prosymnus / Hades

NOTHING BUT THUNDER is a phone-free performance.  Yondr provides secure pouches for mobile devices.