Ryan Hill and Deborah Eliezer appear in foolsFURY’s “Dionysus Was Such a Nice Man.” (Courtesy Ben Yalom)

Zany antics spoil ‘Dionysus Was Such a Nice Man’

foolsFURY show unsuccessfully mixes comedy and tragedy

If the title of Kate Tarker’s play is mystifying, so is the play itself, at least in this West Coast premiere by foolsFURY.

In fact, “Dionysus Was Such a Nice Man” is zany and unfocused enough to make your head spin.

Not that it’s meant to be entirely a comedy.

Based very loosely on the Greek myth of Oedipus — the prince of Thebes who was abandoned at birth and doomed to kill his father and marry his mother — Tarker’s version aims to showcase Alcinoe, Oedipus’ sister, and includes themes of alcoholism, child abuse and molestation, rape, incest, violence, suicide attempt and death-by-freak-accident.

After a 75-minute first act in which a pair of sloppy-drunk shepherds of Corinth — Oed’s adoptive parents, Polybus (Ryan Hill) and Merope (Deborah Eliezer) — carouse, singing and yelling as they prepare for a wild, booze-soaked party, while the beleaguered sister mopes and tidies up, things quickly take a serious turn in Act 2, set 10 years later.

But by then it’s too late.

If the atmosphere for most of the play is so outrageously absurd, so raucous — if Polybus is way more obnoxious in his drunken antics than charming (he’s apparently meant to be a charming rascal), if cows fall through roofs, if dead sheep are tossed across the stage (actually, the funniest thing in the play), if the ambient sound is, hilariously, of barnyard animals lowing, crowing and bleating — then how can we care that the Messenger raped Alcinoe in a drunken stupor?

And are we really meant to be amused when Alcinoe, now a lawyer, argues her case while staggering around plastered, to prove a point?

In fact, all the characters are unsympathetic if they’re believable at all, right down to blind, wandering Oedipus himself, and that’s a tough obstacle to overcome in a play that’s already taken a chance by dealing with serious issues in a goofy way.

Part of the problem is in director Ben Yalom’s high-octane approach. The actors seem more intent on showing how funny they are as they tumble, mug and shriek than in doing their actorly job of listening, reacting and pursuing objectives. Not to get all Method-y and pedantic about it, but if the characters don’t behave in ways that have an internal logic within the twisted universe of the play, it’s hard to sort out what the play is really all about.

REVIEW

Dionysus Was Such a Nice Man

Presented by foolsFURY

Where: Joe Goode Annex, 499 Alabama St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 20

Tickets: $15 to $40

Contact: foolsfury.org/dionysus

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