By Kimberly Rau
Is there a way to make a musical that surrounds selling various people into slavery funny? Jay Jeffries and John McMahon sure try in this world premiere at Theatre By the Sea, but, with a script and score that feel cribbed from multiple old musicals, sorry-not-sorry jokes about maybe forcing women into lesbianism and a kick line of dancing satyrs, unfortunately, this feels like too much of an overused thing and not enough like a fresh show.
It’s too bad, too, because the cast is talented and the concept of a show based around Aesop’s fables has so much potential. The storyline surrounding Aesop trying to woo the unwilling Lycaena (who is convinced Aphrodite has promised her a buff, god among men for a husband) is sweet and funny. Brian Sears and Landree Fleming, who play Aesop and Lycaena, respectively, are both enormously talented and make a great stage pair. The dim but sweet slave owner Xanthus seems like a decent character, if you can get past the fact that he glibly, you know, purchases people at his wife’s command. Brad Bellamy has good comedic timing for the role, which helps make it more palatable. And the absolutely hysterical Peter Saide deserves a special note here, for his portrayal of the sweet but dumb fellow slave Philocalus, a man who believes playing the lyre is his best personality trait.
These are some great characters, but they aren’t given a whole lot to work with. Mostly, this play is about a happy slave trying to woo another slave and also rise above his station and maybe keep Greece out of war with Egypt if at all possible. And that could make for a solid night of theatre with the right book, but there’s just too much going on here. Is this satire? It feels too on-the-nose for that. But if it’s not satire, then it’s hard to imagine how all of this got out the door in this state. There’s a song that sounds exactly like “Dames” from 42nd Street…except it’s called “Legs.” A lot of it sounds kind of like the campiest aspects of Pirates of Penzance and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had progeny that neither parent wants to lay too much claim to.
This is the kind of light, silly theater you can’t take too seriously, which in some ways makes it perfect for a summer house, but at the same time, you get the feeling that it really, really wants to be taken seriously…and that’s where Love and Other Fables left me cold.
I sincerely hope we continue to see this talented cast in other shows, either at TBTS or elsewhere in the state, because all of them are fantastic. Unfortunately, this show needs work.
Love and Other Fables, directed by Jay Binder, runs through June 16 at Theatre By the Sea, 364 Cards Pond Road, Matunuck, RI. Tickets can be purchased online at theatrebythesea.com or by calling 401.782.8587.