It is not unusual that a mother and daughter do not get along. But most mothers do not name their daughter Athena and demand that she pursue the "Greek ideal." That is the case in Calliope Rose: A Mythological Lighthouse Comedy by Bill Sterritt, now running at Aerodrome Theater in Cape May.
Rose Walker takes the name Calliope, the muse of eloquence and epic poetry. She believes our civilization needs to embrace its ancient heritage. But Athena thinks her mother is an embarrassing eccentric. She changes her name to "Tina" and plots to turn the family lighthouse into a gainful tourist venue. It is the last working lighthouse, located in the imaginary town of Beacon. But seafarers report the lights go out on stormy nights. There have been shipwrecks, and Dexter (Tom Bryda), a hunky young government official, is sent to investigate.
Both women take a lusty view of him. Calliope, played by Susan Tischler, entices Dexter with ecstatic poetic uplift, probing his beliefs while inviting him to bed. Justine S. Harrison's Tina looks sexy and vaguely mermaid-like in a tight, fan-tailed green skirt. She offers Dexter her plan for commercial wealth – and a partial striptease.
Playwright Sterritt spent 30 years in the Los Angeles theater scene. He returned to his boyhood home of Cape May last year, founded the Cape May Fringe Festival, and opened the Aerodrome theater. In Calliope, he pops in and out of the play as ghostlike Jason, the argonaut, Calliope's husband who died at sea 20 years ago combating predatory Japanese fishing boats.
Calliope offers traditional dramatic conflict only in that the two women battle for the body and soul of Dexter. Which woman, she of the past or she of the present, will bring this stalwart, low-affect official to life? There are no jokes in the play. It is comedy only in the sense that it has a happy ending.
It is more an edgy, conceptual work suggesting that our civilization cannot survive a total rupture from its past. But most conceptual plays use tricked-up drama as vehicle. In Calliope, passions are merely expository. Inclined to settle into core imagery, with its handsome actors and stormy strobe-light set, it is more like a walking-talking tableau vivant.
Or is there more going on? Fringe events invite you to be freewheeling and reckless in interpretation. Could Calliope also be a send-up of both conceptual plays and loopy belief systems?