The Mythology Project, The Next Arena, NoHo Actors Studio

In the beginning, The Mythology Project seems like it may be a little too ambitious, and perhaps even a little pretentious. A play about the creation of the world, through the eyes of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Scandinavians, Africans, Chinese and Babylonians - each told in a different theatrical style? It's certainly an intriguing concept.

True love

It took Christianity's God six days to create the world. The Next Arena Theater Company attempt to do this over and over again in about an hour and a half. Still, if The Reduced Shakespeare Company succeeded in compressing the entire works of William Shakespeare into a couple of hours, anything is possible.

The performance opens with eight actors, dressed in black, quoting ancient Hindu scriptures and draping themselves with lengths of blue cloth to represent flowing waters. However this earnest opener gives little away of what is to follow.

 

After the opening segment, it picks up pace considerably, working its way through Egypt, Babylon, China, Western Biblical/Scientific, Greek, Norse and African, before closing with Hinduism again.

Each section deals with each culture's view of how the world was created, usually involving a god of some description being torn into pieces to create sky, land, air, water and so on.

The actors approach each segment in a different style, some more successful than others. After an amusing ten-minute visit to Egypt, the cast bursts into a radio-play style 'Tale from Babylon! Live from the Fertile Crescent!' - In which sassy monster Tiamat and rubber-faced god Marduk fight it out for control of the world. Marduk ultimately turns Tiamat into the heaven, earth and mountains, and the world as we know it is born. There are absurd balloon-squeaking and coconut-clopping sound effects throughout and a clever intermission advertising the advent of 'The Written Word!' as an alternative to oral storytelling. In fact the entire segment is so entertaining; it almost distracts you from the tale being told.

Another highlight is the Biblical/Scientific section, in which the actors take turns to tell the story of the world's creation from the points of view of Christians and scientists. The dialogue alternates between God and the Big Bang, Adam and Eve and cell reproduction, with each party mocking each other's account as they go along.

Taking a bow

The penultimate story, however, steals the show. The actors burst onto the stage to perform the Norse creation myth in the form of a rock opera. Once again, the head banging, air guitar and Gene Simmons tongue action distract a little from the storyline, but this hardly seems to matter. It's a wildly entertaining ten minutes that culminate in the frost giants challenging the gods Oden, Vili and Ve to a battle of the bands. Hip hop and Justin Timberlake both get parodied as the frost giants are once again carved up to build the world we live in.

The entirely watchable, but relatively sedate, African creation myth has to follow this delightfully silly performance, which is hard to do - and perhaps a structural flaw. And, with another earnest journey back into Hindu scriptures, the play ends in a gentle rather than raucous mood. A bigger bang to end on might have worked slightly better.

Writer-director-producer Annie Terry hints that there is a deeper message to this play: 'The parallels between these diverse tales of the origins of human existence [make] the point that perhaps we are not so different after all.'

There are some interesting parallels between the stories, but if there is a deeper message, it is slightly drowned out by the sheer exuberance of the actors and the over-the-top nature of the more memorable segments. As sheer entertainment, however, The Mythology Project works very well.

If you would like to find out more about NoHo theater you may call the box office at 818.508.7895 or visit there website: www.nohoartsdistrict.com/theatreweb/NoHo_Actors.htm

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