By Russ Bickerstaff
Local playwright John Manno’s Golden Apollo is a clever fusion between contemporary aesthetics and ancient legend. Having opened a couple of weeks ago, the reasonably offbeat theatrical presentation’s debut run with Insurgent Theatre ends this coming weekend. While the Insurgent’s cast manages an ensemble performance that respectably fits the script, Manno’s Golden Apollo has more than enough potential to deserve a much bigger venue than the tiny confines the Insurgent Theatre provides at the Astor Theatre.
Somewhere near the center of the story lies a brilliant immortal woman named Leto. Leto’s been around for several millennia, having taken the form of an attractive, young woman played by Stephanie Adela Barenett. She is immensely wealthy and powerful, living in a huge, palatial mansion looked after by an exotic servant who used to be a king (Shawn Smith). At the opening of the first act, we see Leto begin an experiment that results in fusing the more brilliant qualities of three different men into one known as Sinbad, (Jason Hames). He was perhaps meant to be the perfect man, but can that guarantee happiness?
There in the first moments of that first act lie all the elements that are going to occupy the rest of the play. Lofty intellectual ideas are discussed with some pretty interesting dialogue by earth bound voices adorned in simple, modest costuming on a very minimal set meant to represent a vast mansion. The discrepancy between the tiny space of the Astor Theatre’s stage and the place it’s meant to represent is functionally diminished by use of sparse lighting and negative space. Still, it would be interesting to see this story play out with a substantially bigger budget.
As Sinbad, Hames plays a number of angles quite well, but the greater character seems a bit out of reach. We see his interest in Leto gradually give way to frustration. We see these elements play out in someone who is extremely human, but Hames doesn’t quite reach the complexity of a person who has been forged out of three people. There are strong parallels between Sinbad and Dr. Frankenstein’s creation in the original Mary Shelley novel. Though, the greater challenges of playing a creation grown resentful of its creator never quite materialize in Hames’ performance. Many actual moments work for Hames, particularly those with Barnett, but there’s a larger sense of the character missing from the bigger picture.
Manno’s story manages to remain provocative throughout the length of the show. In places, the script feels a bit overwrought, however. The significance of having the entire death scene from Romeo and Juliet play out in front of Leo and Sinbad probably makes some kind of sense in the script, but in this production it feels a bit out of place. Some of the loftier intellectual elements of the play aren’t really integrated into the plot with enough sophistication to seem relevant, but on the whole this is a very good play that deserves a closer look by bigger theatre venues. VS
Insurgent Theatre’s production of Golden Apollo runs now through February 3 at the Astor Theater. For more information, call 414-405-3576 or visit http://www.insurgenttheatre.org.