Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Pandora: A Tragicomic Greek Romp

Studio Theatre, 1501 15th Street NW

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 17, at 5:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 21, at 9:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 24, at 11 a.m.

They say: “A classic tale of boy meets girl. Except this time she's got a mysterious box that can destroy the world. Ancient Greek epic meets madcap comedy in a story about monsters, mythology, and a box that must never be opened.”

Rebecca's Take: Usually, when Fringe performers send out a press release describing their show as a “something-something comic romp,” I click delete and run two Metro stops in the other direction. But I made an exception for Pandora: A Tragicomic Greek Romp, because the troupe in question is the Impressionable Players, the kids that brought us last year’s Best Overall Fringe show, Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending? I'll provide the link to that review here. Opps. Let's try that again, here.

(Editor's Note:
The Fringe & Purge Action Review and Commentary Squad interrupts this review to apologize for not reviewing the show that you, our readers, voted best of the entire festival last year. That was embarrassing.)

But I was saying... the other reason I went to see Pandora was because I’ve been a sucker for Greek mythology ever since Clash of the Titans, and I don't mean last year's remake.

According to Edith Hamilton’s seminal handbook, Mythology, Pandora was the first woman, created by Zeus as "a great evil for men, a sweet, lovely thing to look upon." According to the Impressionable Players, she arrives on earth much later, when the perceived power of Zeus is waning and women are already wrecking havoc on men’s hearts. Pandora (the delightfully cute Madeline Whiting) washes up on a Greek beach, and is discovered by local inventor Nikodemus (the delightfully quirky Jayme Bell.) Like Pygmalion's statue or Encino Man, she doesn’t know who she is or where she’s from. All she knows is that she has a box, and a key, and she’s not supposed to let anyone open it.

Niko’s fiancée Eris (Katie Jefferies) isn’t thrilled about the ignorant ingénue taking up residence, even if Pandora needs to be taught basic human functions like how to drink a glass of water. What’s great about this show is that the characters throw such curve balls at archetypes. Eris could have been an insipid whiner. Instead, she’s a strong woman whose man falls for someone else, and she elicits just as much empathy from the audience as Pandora. The script, co-written by the director, Ann Friastat, and her brother, Shawn, is populated by more colorful characters than the average television sitcom. And the actors—-almost all recent graduates or current students at the University of Maryland—-are really, really into it.

In the pants role as Philo, Niko’s younger brother, Natalie Pyle convincingly teaches Pandora how to play with ancient G.I. Joes. The conniving town elders, Diophobus and Arche, shake hands with potential “voters” in the audience between scenes. As Arche, Kathryn Pace is a better schmoozer than Nancy Pelosi. And then there’s Megas (Matt Sparachino), a dim-witted strongman with a pet dead squirrel.

All characters take turns coming in and out of the chorus, and for the first hour or so, I marveled at Pandora’s smartness, cuteness and sincerity. The crew has considerable experience working at local theaters, and the production mostly flows well. Costumes are simple but spot-on (toga-chic meets H&M), though you shouldn't expect great things in the sound design department.

The most pressing problem with Pandora—besides the whole unleash-evil-on-the-world thing—is that the 95-minute show should be 20 minutes shorter. The myth ends with the open box, death, destruction, etc., but the Impressionables are going for romantic drama. Not to ruin all of Aphrodite’s fun, but attempts to tie up loose ends with the lovers and a subplot about a disastrous flood drags out what should probably be a simpler denouement.

There’s time for tweaking. This summer, the Impressionable Players are taking R&J on the road to the New York International Fringe Festival. Good for them. Since all mankind isn’t destroyed in this Pandora, there are probably more good shows to come.

See it if: You voted for R&J last year and were like, "WTF, Fringe & Purge!" You own a used copy of Mythology. You are nostalgic for pre-financial crisis Greece and want to invest your drachmas in a very promising young local theater company.

Skip it if: Sitting through a well developed romantic comedy in the air-conditioned comfort of Studio Theatre just seems anti-Fringe.

Editor’s Note, again: Rebecca teaches technical writing at the University of Maryland. These actors are definitely not her students.

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