‘Tales from Mount Olympus’ comes to a close at Theatre Three

Bruce Coleman wields power over the gods, turning Greek myths into Day-Glo puppets for Mount Olympus

With adult hindsight, Tales from Mount Olympus director Bruce Coleman  sees the importance of these stories and the meanings behind them. The moral tales and life lessons come much clearer with life experience. But he also knows that the gods and goddesses have their own subtexts that speak directly to LGBT audiences. The characters are already  interesting, but it sounds like they have some major fab cred behind them.

“Well, yes! I mean Artemis is the goddess of all lesbians. She made Zeus promise her that she’d never have to marry a man,” he laughs. “Goddess of the hunt? OK, go on, girl. And everyone knows Dionysus [the god of wine] is our patron saint.”

But one puppet god might end up catching some eyes ogling a little more intently.

“Someone had looked at my Poseidon and said he is not the god of the ocean,” Coleman chuckles, ”he’s the god of hotness!”

DEETS: Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168. 2:30 p.m. $20–$30.  214-871-3300. Theatre3Dallas. com.

—  Rich Lopez

Mything the mark

Puppets rule in ‘Mount Olympus,’ but the effect ends up wooden

Theatre TooJeffrey Schmidt | Theatre3Dallas.com

Puppets and theater don’t come to mind often, save for Avenue Q. That Broadway hit knew how to mix its Sesame Street-like puppets with a contemporary storyline.

Theatre Three’s world premiere of Bruce Coleman’s Tales of Mount Olympus tweaks the idea using puppetry to tell the classic stories of gods and monsters from Greek mythology. Coleman, who wrote, directed and designed Mount Olympus, exudes innovation. He mentioned that this show is a built of worldly components of theater. The Greek myths are narrated in American storytelling fashion with Hungarian black lights and Japanese Bunraku puppetry. If only as a whole, they all worked.

The show begins with more primitive puppets. Gaia, or Earth, was a large globe with her face painted on and rotated thanks to the actor in black. Her husband, Uranus, was an interestingly constructed creature made up of Christmas lights. Ultimately though, they came off as school craft projects. This remained the same for the following set of gods, Cronus and Rhea.

Two-dimensional pedestals with large heads depicted the married couple while actors from behind emoted with their hands. When Rhea gives birth, her babies are delivered by a magnificent puppet of of a bird in beautifully done Day-Glo feathers to Cronus who ate them for fear they would revolt and overthrow his power. There is some injected humor here as he burps after each devouring and the bird acts as a busybody telling everyone’s business, but there is nothing compelling here. Actors don’t voice the characters. Instead, they are pre-recorded and acted out. This is more of a disconnect than an effective too, but more on that later.

Before long, we are introduced to the glorious puppets of the gods. We see Aphrodite borne from her shell albeit not nude. Coleman initially planned for that bit of nudity, but construction became an issue. Hades, Poseidon, Hera and others are all brought out in striking puppet form. The faces are bold and can be seen clearly from each seat and two actors control most of the characters with one as the brain, and the other as the body.

Zeus however is part of the stage. His huge face is depicted on a wall with a moveable jaw like Big Tex. Understandably, it depicts his grandiose standing, but it’s also underwhelming. When he speaks, the bottom of his beard scrapes the floor and distracts from everything else.

Act 1 has been filled to the brim with more Greek stories before intermission. The tale of Aphrodite infidelity to Hephaestus by her affair with Ares and Persephone’s trip to the Underworld to become Hades’ wife all play out before the break and feel a little rushed.

The first half lacks any emotional punch and the visuals wear off quickly despite the detailed construction of the sets and puppets. Coleman did allow for humor so there are moments when a puppet is actually funny by way of a gesture or the shakes. When two gods give a high five in Act 2, it’s a priceless, hilarious moment.

Theater Three
Jeffrey Schmidt | Theatre3Dallas.com

Thankfully, this is where Olympus redeems itself somewhat. By telling the whole tale of Perseus and Andromeda (or for the cinematic-minded, Clash of the Titans), there is time to get invested into the characters as Perseus sets out to save Andromeda from the Kracken. The innovation explodes here. When Perseus meets Pegasus, the winged horse provides a gasp of wow and although Medusa isn’t as threatening as she needs to be, it is an inspired piece of work they created. I don’t want to give too much away — either in the Kracken’s appearance or Cerberus’ the three-headed dog — but there is some room for surprise in the show, even if they are small ones.

Act 2 may stick with you, but the show won’t. The play feels much more like a production intended for school-age children, which is hard to reconcile with Theatre Three’s usual professional standards. The recorded narration is also miscast, as the voices are never powerful enough. Zeus should ring through the stage, but instead sounds far from almighty-ness. Actors could have possibly voiced the characters with more depth and emotion but the choice to go with recorded narration takes away from the dramatics. I wanted so much more from this show, which I would have gotten if I was a whole lot younger.

Tales from Mount Olympus at Theatre Three (in the Theatre Too space), 2800 Routh St., Suite 168. Through Nov. 28. $20–$30.  214-871-3300. Theatre3Dallas. com.

—  Rich Lopez

The puppet master

Bruce Coleman wields power over the gods, turning Greek myths into Day-Glo puppets for his family-friendly world premiere ‘Mount Olympus’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

BUNRAKU? I HARDLY KNOW U!  |  The actors in Bruce Coleman’s newest play are hidden in shadow while their alter egos are vividly colored Bunraku puppets from Greek mythology. (Photo courtesy Ken Birdsell)
BUNRAKU? I HARDLY KNOW U! | The actors in Bruce Coleman’s newest play are hidden in shadow while their alter egos are vividly colored Bunraku puppets from Greek mythology. (Photo courtesy Ken Birdsell)

MOUNT OLYMPUS
Theatre Three
2800 Routh St., Suite 168. Oct 29– Nov. 28. $20–$30.  214-871-3300.
Theatre3Dallas. com.

………………………..

Greek gods, with their muscular bodies and tendency to wear skimpy garb, may be the fantasies of gay men. But to kids, the mythology behind Zeus, Hercules, Hera is more like the perfect combination of a comic book and a soap opera. Superpowers intertwined with high drama held many youngsters’ attentions, even for li’l Brucey Coleman.

Now that he’s director-designer-playwright Bruce Coleman, that fascination has stuck around. He comes full circle to his elementary school days with his newest play, Tales from Mount Olympus, which gets its world premiere this week at Theatre Three’s downstairs stage, Theatre Too. Keeping a childlike sense of wonder alive, he’s turned his gods into puppets.

“When I was a fourth grader, I remembered this book on Greek myths which I checked out so many times from the library,” he says. “I loved the order and sense of those stories and the gods, not that my own life was chaotic. They had their domains. That order appealed to me and maybe even made sense for why I came into theater — everyone in theater has their [sensibility].”

In Mount Olympus, Coleman has reimagined four tales from classic Greek mythology performed by a cast of puppets. But he doesn’t go all Avenue Q on the audience with R-rated language and adult situations. Instead, as he pitched the idea of the play to Theatre Three founder and executive producer Jac Alder, this is a family-friendly play that appeals to adults and kids. In fact, he hopes people will bring their children out — even if there is some puppet nudity.

“Well, we all know Aphrodite wasn’t born in a track suit,” he laughs. “But I had suggested that we hadn’t done any family programming and I wanted to push this as something adults and their kids could come to. Jac got really excited about that.”

During Coleman’s stint as a high school drama teacher, part of his curriculum was to do a children’s show every year. Staying away from the usual Three Pigs/Cinderella plays, he directed shows based on mythology. Not only did the students get into it, so did other teachers. He knew he was on to something.

But entertaining third and fourth graders is one thing; will professional theater audiences buy into it? Coleman isn’t worried. He holds his young cast in high esteem and the design of the show is electrifying. Glowing puppets, blizzards, rising moons — Coleman knows his audience will fall into the magic of it all.

KING OF THE SEA  |  Poseidon is actually the god of hotness — for a puppet, at least — in the world premiere ‘Tales from Mount Olympus.’
KING OF THE SEA | Poseidon is actually the god of hotness — for a puppet, at least — in the world premiere ‘Tales from Mount Olympus.’

“We use Bunraku puppets where the puppeteer is clad in all black,” he says. “Julie Taymor called this the double event, where the audience is aware of both, but there is this moment when you cross over into seeing the puppets only. It’s really kind of thrilling.”

Still, he credits the puppeteers with really acting their parts, and doesn’t want audiences to forget that. With no formal puppet training among them, everyone started at a level playing field. Coleman rallied them into thinking of it as one major acting exercise.

“The cast is young and strong and help bring this to life and keep pushing it,” he says. “There is a moment when Hades’ discovery brings him down. Lee Wadley and Ryan Martin did these simple movements and made it heartbreaking. There is lots of teamwork and they worked really hard to create emotions.”

With eight actors playing more than 100 characters — including pillars, butterflies and other background — Coleman is ready to move on from rehearsals to show time. Actors came into the show with enthusiasm and no preconceived notions about their work. And Coleman says every rehearsal has brought some new surprise to the show.

“I’m anxious to get this in front of an audience,” he says. “And with the actors, the puppets have taken steps in their evolution. One of my main goals is to get that imagination ignited again. We have a blizzard at the end of Act 1. Who does that?”

With adult hindsight, Coleman now sees the importance of these stories and the meanings behind them for young people. The moral tales and life lessons come much clearer with life experience. But he also knows that the gods and goddesses have their own subtexts that speak directly to LGBT audiences. The characters are already inherently interesting, but it sounds like they have some major fab cred behind them.

“Well, yes! I mean Artemis is the goddess of all lesbians. She made Zeus promise her that she’d never have to marry a man,” he laughs.

“Goddess of the hunt? OK, go on, girl. And everyone knows Dionysus [the god of wine] is our patron saint.”

But one puppet god might end up catching some eyes ogling a little more intently.

“Someone had looked at my Poseidon and said he is not the god of the ocean,” Coleman chuckles, ”he’s the god of hotness!”

…………………….

Spooky theater

Just in time for Halloween, some plays are opening with a sense of the macabre.

Over at SMU, James Crawford has directed a play by the oddly named Five Lesbian Brothers called The Secretaries. The brutal, satiric play about feminism and female bonding is set in a logging town where once a month something nasty happens. The student production gets its final performance Friday at 8 p.m.the Margo Jones Theatre on campus. Call 214-768-2787 for tickets.

Elias Taylorson recently joined Broken Gears Project Theatre as co-artistic director just in time for their newest show, The Pitchfork Disney. A sexually changed surreal play about indulgent young people, it plays in the heart of Oak Lawn in a new 40-seat theater at 3819 Fairmount, across from the Grapevine Bar. For tickets, call 917-415-9482.

Perhaps even creepier than all this, of course, is heterosexual romance. Eeek! Don’t be too afraid (a little, not too) of Neil Simon’s early classic about newlyweds in New York, Barefoot in the Park, pictured. It’s actually a charming situation comedy with lot of signature Simon one-liners. Contemporary Theatre of Dallas opens the show Friday. For tickets, call 214-828-0094

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Applause • That’s so gay

Queer connections infiltrate lots of the upcoming season of arts

Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot
Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot, above, is a coup for the Dallas Opera; Pink Martini, below, gets the Meyerson jumping as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s guest next week.

When you have a gay theater company (as Dallas does in Uptown Players) and another troupe dedicated to bringing Broadway musicals to town (as Dallas Summer Musicals does), you can be pretty confident in finding gay appeal in the lively arts.

But cast your gaze — and your gays — outside the usual focus, and there a lot more to discover across the arts in North Texas this season.

Chief among the highlights: The Dallas Opera’s coup in snagging dreamy gay baritone Paulo Szot, who won a much-deserved Tony for the revival of South Pacific, in the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Oct. 22). Director Stephen Lawless returns to helm Anna Bolena (Oct. 29). DallasOpera.org.

Of course, Uptown Players and DSM are getting into the action with their upcoming shows as well. UP’s final production of their 2010 season is the American premiere of Closer to Heaven, written to the songs of the Pet Shop Boys. The musical drama opens Oct. 1 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. The group will announce its 2011 season on Tuesday. UptownPlayers.org. And DSM’s national tour of Shrek is the State Fair Musical this year, opening Sept. 28. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

Next week, Theatre Three produces the local premiere of Songs from an Unmade Bed, a song cycle about a gay man working his way through a relationship. In previews from Sept. 3 in the Theatre Too space. Also in Theatre Too: Bruce R. Coleman’s latest play, the puppet show Tales from Mount Olympus, and spring welcomes Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang. Next up on the main stage is Laramie Project creator Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, followed in December by the local premiere of The Drowsy Chaperone. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas continues its presentation of Ed Graczyk’s world premiere Texas-set comedy-drama with a gay twist, Blue Moon Dancing, which runs through Sept. 12. Its 2010–11 season kicks off in October, and includes plays directed by Rene Moreno (The Trip to Bountiful) and Michael Serrecchia (Cheaters), plus a play by gay playwright Alan Ball (Five Women Wearing the Same Dress). ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com.

The Dallas Theater Center launches its new season next month with the company’s gay artistic director Kevin Moriarty’s adaptation of Henry IV (opens Sept. 11).  The season ends with the musicals Cabaret and The Wiz. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

WaterTower Theatre begins its season with its artistic director, Terry Martin, directing and starring in Our Town (previewing on Sept. 24), and closes the season with Howard Ashman’s camptastic Little Shop of Horrors in July. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

Pink Martini
Pink Martini

Bass Hall brings in Spring Awakening on Nov. 9–10, followed by Mamma Mia, A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast and 9 to 5 later in the season. BassHall.org. In Dallas, the Lexus Broadway Series includes Young Frankenstein (Jan. 4) and Billy Elliot (June 8), while TITAS starts with MOMIX (Sept. 10) and the return of Complexions Contemporary Ballet (May 11). ATTPAC.org. The Dallas Black Dance Theatre stages a dance by local legend Bruce Wood in the spring as well (see story Page S6).

It’s not just opera and theater that goes gay, either: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra welcomes queer-led bank Pink Martini on Sept. 3, and The Music of Michael Jackson starts Sept. 1. DallasSymphony.org.

Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas