No Exit Performance and Zach Rosing Productions, continue to solidify their reputations for producing original work that is edgy, provocative, and stretches boundaries. “Mad Mad Hercules,” a collaboration between the two groups, is no exception. A rib-tickling, rollicking comedy, the production continues through May 7 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre.
Written by local playwright Bennett Ayres (“House of Blue Leaves” and”Lady and the Sanguine Man”), “Mad Mad Hercules” is his zany, adults only ((16-years old and up) take on the story of Hercules, the divine hero from Greek mythology, known for his strength and many adventures.
The plays plot revolves around Hercules’ execution of a list of labors that were nearly impossible tasks. The feats were assigned to him by Eurystheus, a tyrant king who Hercules was forced to serve for murdering him own children. Many of the gargantuan tasks involved Hercules having to do battle with and bring back proof that he had killed beasts and monsters.
Boldly and cleverly directed by Rosing’s frequent creative partner, Zack Neidtich, the show’s consummate cast— include Ryan Ruckman (Hercules), Nathan Thomas (Iolaos), Tony Armstrong (Zeus), Josiah McCruiston (Eurystheus), Beverly Roche (Hippolyta/Galinthias) and Dena Toler (Hera/Echidna). The chorus consists of Matthew Altman, Carrie Bennett Fedor, and Devan Mathias.
Though all the show’s actors deserve praise for their comic flair, several were standouts during the Saturday performance that I attended.
Ruckman who I have enjoyed seeing in several Brozone (a local comedy group) shows, was very entertaining as the macho, wine-drinking, boorish and smart-ass Hercules who kept me guessing as to how many of his often hilarious asides, were improvised.
Iaolos assists the overbearing Hercules with his labors. Playing him was Thomas (who reminded me of David Hyde Pierce in roles he has played ) who turned in a winning performance as the strong man’s long-suffering, priggish side-kick who eventually, and unexpectedly becomes Hercules’s lover.
In a highly sexualized portrayal of Hippolyta, the powerful Amazon queen, Roche’s physical characterization was wildly over the top, made notable by her fearlessness and lack of inhibition. One of Indy’s finest character actors, she also excelled at playing mythical figure Galinthias, a woman turned into a weasel, that is, in this instance, a puppet manipulated by Roche.
McCruiston, was strong as the unrelenting, impervious and pompous king Eurytheus. McCruiston’s scenes with Ruckman were especially funny for the obvious enjoyment the two actors displayed as they played off one another.
Several times during the show, chorus members make reference to the show’s low production values as reflected in purposely cheesy special effects, shadow puppets (designed by Beverly Roche & Kristin Ruckman), and oversized puppets (designed by Ryan Mullins, Lukas Schooler & Beverly Roche)—all of which contributed to the tongue in cheek aura of the production.
Though “Mad Mad Hercules,” does have a few reflective moments, this silly parody of a classic tale of redemption is devised to elicit raucous laughter—something it succeeds art doing quite well. The show is also a reminder of the wealth of talent that exists in Indy.—not only those performing on stage but also those producing original content for actors to practice their craft and showcase their gifts.