by Matt Ritchey
The School of Night is back at Fringe with Hercules Insane, a new translation of Roman poet/Senator/playwright/philosopher Seneca’s tragedy, and they’ve again crafted a winner.
The story revolves around Queen of the gods Juno’s (Dawn Alden) final attempt to destroy Hercules (Jason Britt) after her twelve other labours have failed. To do so, she invokes her darkest magic to curse him to go insane. His family (Alex Elliott-Funk and Tiffany Cole) struggles under a tyrannical new ruler (Christopher Neiman) until Hercules returns from the Underworld with Theseus (Andre Ing) to leap to his country’s defense. But his triumph is short-lived as Juno’s curse descends upon him…
Preview evening began with Director Christopher Johnson giving a five minute background lesson in who the playwright was, why he’s so vital in history and theatre, and how his works influenced all of the Elizabethan playwrights whose work we see more often. Johnson should have a thirty-to-forty-minute lecture as a Fringe show of its own, as he not only has an incredible amount of knowledge, but is an exciting and engaging storyteller – hopefully this pre-show speech stays in the production.
The performances were top notch, the actors relishing and sharing the extremely dense material with professional ease. The only time the forward action seemed to lull was the movement section telling the story of Hercules’ labours, beautifully choreographed by Esther Mira. Though impressive and telling it’s own story well, it seemed a bit out of place in the midst of the dialogue-heavy production.
Hercules Insane is challenging theatre with great performances, fabulous mask work, dramatic choreography, and terrific staging. Go!