By Wendy Rosenfield
for the Inquirer
Curio Theatre's had a pretty good run lately, but you wouldn't know it from the way it starts off its newest work, Oedipussy. A comic adaptation of British theater troupe Spymonkey's adaptation of Sophocles' classical tale of father-murdering and mother-loving, they quote from a review ostensibly written by my Inquirer colleague Toby Zinman, calling them "inexperienced middle-aged actors" and griping, "It's like watching a talking book that doesn't talk very well."
Thus demoralized, Curio artistic director Paul Kuhn, costume designer Aetna Gallagher, actor-about-town Brian McCann (each moving fast toward 50) and young actor-playwright Harry Slack, set about proving their physical stage fitness. Leaping, climbing, hurling themselves around the simple set while downing painkillers, they barrel through the tragedy in a hilarious and weirdly touching meditation on life, love, theater, and aging gracelessly.
Directed by John Bellomo, there's plenty of slapstick, and a bit or two may drag, but mostly Curio makes Spymonkey's work its own. The production is about as subtle as the ancients liked it: The oft-consulted Oracle is two beach ball-sized googly eyes that have an unsettling habit of bouncing away. Gallagher's costumes range from ridiculous to ridiculously sublime (a dress with extra arms to help illustrate Jocasta's suicide-by-hanging). Oedipussy (McCann) and Jocasta (Gallagher) sing a deliriously cheesy love song, accented by Kuhn's sax-and-clarinet solos. And brief monologues by cast members examine their own personal tragedies and humiliations.
Spymonkey might have its niche figured out - it's taken some classics into its zany wheelhouse, and performs in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity. But likewise, Curio's season, incorporating this work and Gender Comedy (Slack's original take on Twelfth Night) alongside its usual standards, points to a company not settling into middle age but taking some risks and hitting its stride.
After reading Zinman's critiques, the team announces, "Toby Zinman, this one's for you." I can't claim to speak for her, but I suspect she'd be pleased with the honor. Either way, I'm happy to add another review to the positive pile.