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Friday, May 30, 2008

Review- ‘Old Comedy from Aristphane’s Frogs’ (Target Margin)

The Fab Marquee Review by Preston Wise.

Something extraordinary is happening on 13th Street; Target Margin’s Old Comedy transcends what we think a play can do. Inspired by Aristophanes’ satire The Frogs, this adaptation doesn’t feel like the play is from old times, but a young art form. It has the unrefined rage of a brilliant teenager. This production takes so many risks, breaks so many taboos, challenges and inspires the audience so often that it seems absurd to compare it to a typical theater experience.

Old Comedy
Pedro Pascal as Dionysus & Derek Lucci as Xanthias.
Photo Credit: Joe Dore

The play loosely follows the structure of The Frogs. Dionysus (Pedro Pascal), the god of Wine and Drama, and his slave Xanthias (Derek Lucci) travel to the underworld in search of a poet and preside over a verbal duel between Euripides (Purva Bedi) and Aeschylus (Anthony Mark Stockard). Xanthias begins with a razor-beautiful speech comparing the decline of ancient Athens and the end of the ‘American century.’ The play teems with images from throughout human history. A forest out of The Inferno is haunted by a Wendy bird. Heracles thinks he’s special because they changed his name and made him a cartoon. Charon makes a brutal prophesy that no checks and balances can save a government whose people have become corrupt.

As you may guess, the play is smart as it is fearless. As it is funny. While each actor has a standout moment, the comedy team of Pascal and Lucci ignite the show. Sometimes with a flamethrower. As they drop in and out of character, commenting on the action they drive, many of the laughs are of “I can’t believe they just said that” humor. Followed quickly by humor of recognition. The ensemble, working seamlessly as one, finds and discards caricatures by the second.

Somewhere between political commentary too angry to be called satire and a paean to writers who shaped the human soul, the play starts to be something more than play. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and then it becomes something else. Maybe it’s a reminder that theatre can be a life-changing, not just a night out. Maybe it’s just an experience.

Early in the play, it’s pointed out that Xanthias is a literary first: the clever slave. He will be followed by any number of servants, slaves, and fools who are wiser than their masters and say to them what no one else would. That’s a good analogy for the play. Its production values, while clever, are not ornate. The musical numbers, whether through acoustics or conscious choice, often seem dampened. Sometimes one can see the outline of what a moment could be with stronger musical support. It doesn’t have the smooth polish of Broadway or the Off-Broadway subscription season.

Old Comedy
(Front L-R) Purva Bedi, Davina Cohen,
(Rear L –R) Charles Hudson III, Michael Levinton & Anthony Mark Stockard
photo credit: Joe Dore

Like Xanthias, the production uses its humility to say what we don’t like to think, much less hear out loud. There are riveting indictments of our leaders, our art, and the populace that follows them. Rather than anger or defensiveness, they make us laugh or ruefully shake our heads. After the play, something has changed.

And that is a stunning achievement.

Target Margin presents
David Greenspan’s
Old Comedy from Aristophane’s Frogs
directed by David Herskovit
Closing May 31st @ 8pm

The performance schedule for Old Comedy from Aristophanes’ Frogs is Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets are $45 for weekday performances and $50 for weekend performances and may be purchased online at, by calling 866-811-4111, or in person at Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13 Street, between 3rd & 4th Avenue, Monday – Friday 12-6pm, or by visiting

Classic Stage Company | 136 East 13 Street, between 3rd & 4th Avenue | Manhattan.

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