From the minute Laurel Ollstein’s new play, “Pandora,” opens, you know you’re in good hands.
A professor (a steely-eyed Mary Beth Fisher) in a Zoom frame launches into a Greek Myths 101 lecture, complete with sound effects and slide projections.
Hapless Pandora, as we know, opened a forbidden box and unleashed evil into the world.
As the professor explains, Pandora was the first mortal woman. She was created by a decree from the all-powerful god Zeus, ostensibly to punish his son Prometheus for defying him, and in effect to punish humankind forever. “It’s all our fault, ladies, right?” cracks the professor. “You wanna know how this story should go? Watch this!”
From that point on, in this impeccably acted and produced virtual reading — a TheatreWorks Silicon Valley/Getty Villa Museum collaboration beautifully directed by Giovanna Sardelli — the playwright fools around merrily with the story’s origins, imagining a whole new approach to the ancient myth that turns it into a feminist comedy with an unexpected outcome. (Full disclosure: Ollstein’s a friend.)
There’s the innocently inquisitive Pandora (a bright-eyed and beguiling Kacie Rogers) and everyone around her: her ruthless quasi-father, Zeus (Bernardo Cubria) who’s king of the entire world (with personality traits not unlike a certain recent president); her sort-of mother (and Zeus’ sister) who claims to be made of seafoam (Romi Dias); newfound lover, Epi (Zeus’ son Epimetheus, whose name, as the professor points out with a smirk, means “Unacknowledged”), played by Neimah Djourabchi); and others, including the disgraced Prometheus, who takes the form of a stuffed toy cat with the requisite nine-plus lives.
Pandora lives in a lighthouse on an island, her only neighbor an old blind woman in giant sunglasses (Fisher again), who’s a slightly demented (and narcissistic) seer, accompanied by her devoted dog (who may also be her lover).
It’s Pandora’s wedding day; she met Epi yesterday — he’s the first man she’s ever seen — and declares, confidently, “Today I am a woman!” Epi assures her he loves her more than all the other women he’s ever been with, who were all conniving. “Besides, I’m related to all of them.”
But he’s a nervous wreck, because his tyrannical father is expected to show up for the wedding. “He’s powerful and has anger issues,” quavers Epi.
The dark and haunting shadow of an eagle flies periodically across the screen. Things will not go well.
“I’m HERE,” booms Zeus upon arrival, accompanied by the obligatory clap of thunder.
“Where is everyone?” He’s brought along his ditzy, boozy girlfriend of the moment (played by Eden Malyn), who turns out to be not quite what she seems.
The witty, playful tone turns a bit too earnest, too pointedly message-y, toward the end of the 90-minute play, as the four women look fiercely toward a future of their own making.
But that’s a minor criticism for a play that, when it’s eventually fully staged, is sure to be terrific.
“Pandora” streams for free through March 19. Visit getty.edu/museum/programs/performances/pandora.html.
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts journalist specializing in theater.