Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Gods of Comedy
Stage Left Productions
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of Next to Normal


Hector Coris, Katryce Bridges, and Shelly Boucher
Photo by Rodney Rickard/Cody Dull
About thirty years ago, playwright Ken Ludwig had back-to-back Broadway hits with his Tony-nominated play Lend Me a Tenor and the musical Crazy for You, for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Book. While Ludwig may not have had any other long runs on Broadway, he is a quite proficient and accomplished playwright, having written close to two dozen comedies plus several books for musicals. One of his latest plays, The Gods of Comedy, had its world premiere in 2019 in a co-production between the Old Globe Theatre and the McCarter Theatre in Princeton and the comedy is making its local debut in a smartly cast and tightly directed production at Stage Left Productions. While it may not quite achieve the excellence of either of Ludwig's first two hits, with several moments of inspired lunacy, humorous characters, and a charming conclusion, it makes for a fast-paced and fun two hours.

The plot centers on Daphne, a young classics professor who is doing research on the Greek island of Naxos. When she does a good deed for a local souvenir peddler, he gives her a necklace that he claims allows her to summon the Gods when she is in need. That necklace comes in handy after fellow professor Ralph discovers the lost manuscript of Euripides' tragedy Andromeda and gives it to Daphne for safe keeping, after which she promptly loses it. Can Dionysus and Thalia, the pair of deities sent from Mount Olympus, help Daphne and Ralph find the lost manuscript before their boss Dean Trickett plans to read from the play to announce the find to a group of donors, including the wealthy Hollywood star Brooklyn who is flirting with Ralph to star in the film adaptation?

Ludwig manages to use several of the theatrical elements that made his previous comedies hits, and those moments of mistaken identity, innuendo, slapstick, mismatched romantic couples, and physical comedy, combined with charming characters and a plot with numerous humorous situations, add up to a funny play. However, the opening sequence is a bit unfocused and the play truly doesn't kick into gear until Dionysus and Thalia appear. Even then, the pair often get sidetracked by jokes about cheeseburgers, modern phrases, and an impression of Lucy and Ricky from "I Love Lucy" that threaten to derail the plot several times, although their antics do manage to beef up the very thin plot.

Under Cody Dull's deft comic direction, the cast shine. Dull instills an appropriate fast pace and his staging makes great use of the Stage Left space. Hector Coris and Shelly Boucher form a hilarious duo as Dionysus and Thalia, respectively. Their performances are fast, loud and funny and the energy level they instill in the production is like a jolt of high-octane caffeine. While not every comic line gets big laughs, which is more a fault of Ludwig's somewhat lackluster script than the performances, Coris and Boucher deliver crowd-pleasing portrayals where almost every joke lands and lands well.

Katryce Bridges is sweet, charming and driven as Daphne, and Cliff Williams is appropriately nervous, fidgety and anxious as Ralph. Deborah Lee Hall is humorous as Dean Trickett, and Ixy Utpadel is a knockout as the cunning Brooklyn. Both Utpadel and Hall have to also play alternate versions of their characters when Dionysus and Thalia take over their bodies and they both do great work instilling traits of Coris and Boucher's performances into their depictions. Thomas F. Graca plays three smaller roles and does a fairly good job making them each unique.

In addition to Dull's simple but effective set design and smart lighting, several of the cast members also contribute winning design elements. The sound design by Cliff Williams features many funny sound effects. The costumes by Dull and Deborah Lee Hall are a charming combination of modern clothing and ancient Greek designs, and Ixy Utpadel's hair and make-up designs are wonderful.

While The Gods of Comedy take a little while before all of the comical elements kick into gear, and I can't imagine it becoming a classic like Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, Stage Left's production has a sustained high energy due to the winning contributions of Hector Coris and Shelley Boucher. And even though some of the jokes are groaners, it still makes for a fun, crowd-pleasing comedy.

The Gods of Comedy runs through January 30, 2021, at Stage Left Productions, 11340 West Bell Road, Suite 105, Surprise AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.stageleftaz.com or call 623-285-6321.

Director/Scenic/Lighting/Prop Designer: Cody Dull
Sound Designer: Cliff Williams
Costume Design: Cody Dull and Deborah Lee Hall
Hair and Make-Up: Ixy Utpadel

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Aristide/Aleksi/Ares: Thomas F. Graca
Daphne: Katryce Bridges
Dean Trickett: Deborah Lee Hall
Ralph: Cliff Williams
Dionysus: Hector Coris
Thalia: Shelly Boucher
Brooklyn/Zoe: Ixy Utpadel


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