Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Up at the Villa

September 16, 2007

Cast of Tug of War
Photo: Craig Schwartz/©2007 J. Paul Getty Trust
With the Getty Villa Museum returning many of its prized antiquities from whence they came, it might be a good time for a little diversification. Luckily, given the, albeit limited, results of the last couple of years, it appears the lovely space overlooking the ocean might be the ideal site for a theatrical production company. This is the second year that the Getty has produced a limited-run adaptation of an ancient Greco-Roman classic to wrap up their summer season. The Villa’s recent restoration included the construction of a small amphitheater on the grounds particularly for this purpose. Perhaps what is most remarkable about this endeavor so far is how good both of these shows have been. On Friday, I caught this year’s offering entitled Tug of War, which is broadly based on the roman comedy Rudens by Plautus. Now I know virtually zero about classics, but apparently comedy has changed a lot over the last few thousand years, requiring that translator, UCLA professor Amy Richlin, and director, Meryl Friedman, to make numerous significant substitutions and alterations to create laughter for a contemporary audience. For instance, hemp apparently is funnier than the once prevalent and popular contraceptive silphium – go figure. Characters' names are changed from Ptolemocratia and Palaestra to Battleaxia and Liplocca. Meanwhile the temple of Venus doubles as a seaside BBQ stand all in the pursuit of humor in this tale of masters, slaves, and pirates.

While the adaptation process is certainly necessary, doing so sometimes runs the risk of the end result being too cloying and precious. Perhaps the most admirable thing about Tug of War is how deftly Richlin and Friedman avoid these pitfalls to come up with a piece that is both genuinely funny and not overly reliant on cynicism or pratfalls. The cast is uniformly excellent which says a lot considering how much singing and dancing is required of them in this admittedly intimate space. (It's refreshing to see an arena where this multi-dimensional talent is appreciated, unlike the world of opera where the foolish "supremacy of voice" continues to bog down and plague an entire art form.) The evening is kept to a tightly edited and quickly moving 90 minutes that float by without things ever feeling like they’re falling apart. Everyone is having a good time, which admittedly makes it difficult to adhere to the Getty's silly admonishment to "Please refrain from unnecessary loud or prolonged applause, shouting, whistling, or any other intrusive conduct during the performance" as apparent appeasement to the tony Getty neighbors who are put out by noise from next door between 8 and 10 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The show runs through September the 29th for those who want to help out in the potential decline of the local property values.


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