Wordshed Productions’ free presentation of playwright/director Tracy Walker’s strange new mythopoetic theater piece Authentic Chameleons is a magical mystery tour — utterly magical in its conception and staging, but a tad too mysterious in its plot and characters. Indeed, the plot and characters and their relationships are sometimes so obscure that this sometimes dazzling show, which closes tonight, is a real head scratcher.
The ostensible heroines of Authentic Chameleons are a sleeping quartet of Muses—Practicality (Danielle Koppel), Scholarly (Jessica Klinke), Hopefulness (Kerstin Lindgren), and Elusive (Cristina Garcia)—who awaken and find that the “voices” that they use to whisper sweet words of inspiration into mortals’ ears have been stolen by an unknown party. They eventually guess that Eshu (Ari Gratch) is the culprit, but there are two mysterious mortals (Frank Gallaugher and Dan Steel) who may well be parties to the theft.
The problem is, there are nine—not four—Muses in Greek mythology. According to Bulfinch’s Mythology, they (and their art forms) are Calliope (Epic Poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe (Lyric Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Sacred Poetry), Terpsichore (Choral Dance and Song), Thalia (Comedy), and Urania (Astronomy). So, there are no ready analogs for Practicality, Scholarly, Hopefulness, or Elusive.
Moreover, Eshu is a trickster-god from African Mythology; and the three characters that Frank Gallaugher and Dan Steel play—two Villagers and The Last Son and Humanity (Gallaugher) and Just So and Not Enough (Steel)—are symbolic constructs from a realm entirely unknown to this reviewer. (When not haunting the stage as the diabolical Eshu, Ari Gratch also plays a character named Too Much.)
Mixing metaphors and mythologies on this mythopoetic journey—which takes place on a striking set (designed by Rob Hamilton)—left this viewer confused. Which is not to say that, for fans of experimental theater, this journey is not worth taking. It’s just that it may leave you with more questions than answers.
From his initial entrance in a maroon dressing gown that looks like something that a “Star Trek” villain would wear when he unexpectedly materializes on the bridge of the starship Enterprise, long-haired, mustached, and goateed Ari Gratch is tall, dark, and devilish as Eshu. Danielle Koppel as the ever-persistent Practicality and Kerstin Lindgren as the occasionally awkward Hopefulness made the deepest impressions as Muses on a desperate quest to get their voices back, but Jessica Klinke as Scholarly and Cristina Garcia as Elusive also add vivid vignettes.
Of their triple roles, Frank Gallaugher and Dan Steel make the most indelible impressions as Humanity and Just So, respectively, although it is not clear what Humanity and Just So represent.
Director/dramatist Tracy Walker creates and sustains a mythopoetic atmosphere in which magic can happen, and sometimes does, throughout Authentic Chameleons—in which the title characters (presumably the men in one or more of their multiple roles) disguise their true intentions to fool the four Muses. Rob Hamilton’s superlative set—a wooden boardwalk in the shape of a cross, backed by three projection screens—and lighting designer Cecilia Durbin’s illumination of the action give the world of Authentic Chameleons an otherworldly quality. Diana Waldier’s vivid costumes, and sound designer Enrique Varela’s original music for the show also are major plusses for this puzzling piece.
Wordshed Productions presents Authentic Chameleons Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. in Studio 6 of Swain Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Admission is FREE. 919/843-3155. Wordshed Productions: http://www.unc.edu/wordshed/.