‘Demetrius Unbound (or the Homeric Midlife Crisis)’
A Farcical Take on the Mistakes We Make in Life
To contextualize Soren Oliver’s “Demetrius Unbound (or the Homeric Midlife Crisis)”, those familiar with Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” will remember this title character as one of the four lovers subjected to Puck’s pixie dust. Thus, Demetrius was tricked into marrying Helena, rather than Hermia, whose father had committed to Demetrius.
Our story picks up twenty years on in ancient Athens, when we learn that as chicken supplier to King Theseus, Demetrius is “Lord of the Fowl”, which designation becomes fodder for several plays on words. Trapped in a comfortable, but loveless marriage, he learns of the con that led to his marriage and uses that revelation to divorce Helena and pursue Hermia, a quest that leads to complicating intersections.
The concept of this farce is clever, and the script has many moments. But which parts seem to work may depend on the viewer’s preference for spoof versus satire versus wit, each of which abound. A classic door-slamming sequence is well choreographed, but the set undermined the comedic impact as actors blast through one flimsy door and three curtains.
The story line is clear, but unevenness and lack of focus mark the production. Much of Act 1 deals with the apparent infliction of a succubus upon Demetrius and his attempt to resolve it. The remainder of the play deals more with the impacts of decisions that characters have made and the rearrangement of relationships among them, with some unexpected and humorous outcomes.
The play is populated with ancient practices, having Greek and Shakespearian references that many will enjoy. But there is an interesting overlay of modern attitudes and values that we Californians can relate to. Along the way, humorous anachronisms are introduced concerning health care coverage, computational technology, abusive banking, and the hard-for-the-playwright-to-resist, Nike footwear, swoosh and all. The inclusion of modern day feminism, transgenderism, and immigrant labor give more spine and purpose to the humor. However, the instrumentalized Motown music that plays during the scene changes is one modern element that escapes me, though I did find myself humming along to the tunes.
“Demetrius Unbound….” is the inaugural production of Bare Flag Theatre, and the company has attracted a largely Actor’s Equity cast, most of whom have dual roles. Each actor rises to the occasion, though some interactions between them are not as crisp as they could be. Stacy Ross plays Helena with the brightness and sense of clarity that she seems to bring to every role she plays. In grittier roles as Hermia and Pythia, Delia MacDougal also shines, while Gendell Hernandez’s Puck is a frenetic whirlwind of action.
The surprise performance comes from our Demetrius – the playwright, Soren Oliver, himself. The company lost it’s lead actor one week before opening, and fortunately, Oliver also acts and already knew the lines fairly well. He is well suited and comports himself with aplomb in the central and one of the most comic roles in the play. The other actors deserve recognition – Robert Sicular, Dodds Delzell, Jordan Winer, and Molly Benson, all of whom performed well.
As many world premiers this work may not have its final polish, but it is thoughtful; produces many laughs; and will likely improve over the run. Possibly with a few tweeks it will satisfy an even larger audience.
Demetrius Unbound (or the Homeric Midlife Crisis) plays at the Live Oak Theater in Berkeley through August 22.