Occupy Olympus: based on 'Plutus, god of Wealth'
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 16, 2013
A scene from Occupy Olympus
I have always been a fan of good political theatre. It is theatre with goals – theatre with purpose. Occupy Olympus has two goals. One is to provoke thought about the widening gap between the richest minority and the rest of us. The other is to entertain. They certainly succeed at both and they do it by using what (to some extent) built this nation: cooperation. When I say, “to some extent”, I mean there is also the other part of our growth as a nation that was all about greed and individual achievement. That’s what has led us to where we are today and to the incubus of this production.
The story is an adaptation of Aristophanes’ 408 BC comedy, Plutus, which centers on an average citizen named Chremylus who befriends Plutus, the god of wealth, as a blind beggar and helps him regain his eyesight so that wealth will no longer be distributed “blindly”. However, the production goes much further than just adapting this old Greek comedy. There are speeches added from Henry George and other contemporary sources that are all aimed at “exposing the absurdity” of our current socio-economic situation. There’s about half a dozen catchy musical-style songs woven into the show as well as some transcripts of actual conversations between Wall St. types. The chorus doubles as a group of average American workers. It’s brilliant and quite funny. The production does a tremendous job of turning this old story (about the same old problems) into a relevant and provocative show.
This is an ensemble driven production. That is its greatest strength. It is clear from the beginning that they love what they’re doing and saying with this show and they love each other. They are a tight and talented bunch. Together they create parts of the script, lyrics and dance proving what wonderful things come from cooperation. Among the most notable are, Taylor Valentine who plays Chremylus (and a narrator of sorts) and Erika Iverson who delivers a punch as Penia, the goddess of Poverty.
The extraordinary vision for this production comes from director George Drance (who also plays Plutus). He uses clowning, physical theatre and melodrama to tell this tale as old as wealth. There is silliness juxtaposed with deep social and political reflection. Drance has created a show that is very accessible to a general audience. It could (and should) be presented in schools or in parks or anywhere.
The score, created by composer Elizabeth Swados, is moving and delicate at times while playful at others. The music is performed and arranged by Almost an Orchestra (Uriel Frazier, Jeonghun Arron Kim and Christine Arboleda). Between them, they play guitar, violin, piano, flute and some drums. The music highlights the free spirit of the show while the lyrics drive the point home. I was completely swept away and in the end, I felt like maybe I don’t have to think ‘well, that’s just the way it is’. I felt instead like there is hope for change.
At the top of the show, they take a poll. A cast member asks, “Should a comedy always be funny?” I looked around and saw mostly ‘yes’ votes but I had instinctively voted ‘no’. Others had too. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one thinking, ‘what kind of funny are we talking about?’. As it turns out, Occupy Olympus is a different kind of funny. It’s that funny that makes you go hmm…the kind of funny that gets under your skin and sticks in your mind. Exposing the absurdities of our modern problems isn’t always a laughing matter…but you’ll laugh anyway. See this one. This is fringe theatre at its best.