Eternal appeal coupled with spirited acting and innovation has brought "The Frogs" to marvelous life in the hills of Woodside with Theatre in the Woods' latest production, directed by Stuart Bousel.
Mr. Bousel has adapted a lively, muscular and modern translation by David Barrett for the production, which is being performed outdoors, with some hiking along dusty trails from stage to stage, in a Redwood forest off Bear Gulch Road on Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 6.
In this satirical tale, it's the god Dionysus who's decided that, with the recent death of the playwright Euripides, the handbasket that has brimmed through time with noble and worthy art has been firmly gripped and conveyed to hell. And he aims to retrieve it.
The plan is to travel to Hades to win the release of Euripides -- creator of such tragedies as "Medea," "Electra," and "Trojan Women" -- and return him to Earth to rescue art from the "mere ... jabberers, choirs of swallow-broods, degraders of their art, who get one chorus, and are seen no more... ."
With the sorry crop of "jabberers" left on Earth, he insists, "you'll never find a true creative genius, uttering startling things."
Accompanied by his put-upon slave, Xanthias, Dionysus sets out for Hades, and the real fun begins. And how could it not, given the outdoor stage of a winding trail the audience is led down — the "road to hell" — before reaching the menacing gates themselves.
The journey is magical, and the set designers, costumers, and props and puppetry masters should take a bow with the actors for their artistry. Along the road to hell, the audience encounters a fantastical Cerberus, the snarling three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.
And as Dionysus boards the boat to cross the river with Charon, a cluster of frogs, brilliantly costumed, stands in for the traditional Greek chorus, croaking out their verses.
I've always marveled at the quality of actors this little theater troupe has managed to snare for the productions I've seen, and this year's crop is no exception, particularly Nathan Tucker as Dionysus and B. Warden Lawlor as Xanthias. The two actors play well against each other, clashing and clinging, and clashing again with just the right comic touch.
As the effeminate Dionysus, Mr. Tucker's timing, delivery and gestures are spot on. He portrays his character with great verve as an imperious god one moment, and a craven fool squealing at the very thought of encountering a spider the next.
Mr. Lawlor's Xanthias is a great foil to his master. He's lumbering, cranky, and as nonchalant in the face of danger as Dionysus is cowardly.
This is a first-rate production, given fine direction by Mr. Bousel, who writes in his director's note that "the true genius of Aristophanes lies in his optimistic belief that the high-brow and the low-brow can be effectively combined and that there are audiences out there smart enough to appreciate such a feat on the part of the poet."
The road to hell in this production of "The Frogs" is paved with great gags and entertainment. Visiting the forest to see it is a truly pleasurable way to spend a weekend afternoon.
"The Frogs" continues Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 6 in the private forest at 2170 Bear Gulch Road in Woodside. The play begins at 1 p.m., and play-goers may picnic on the grounds beginning at noon. For information and tickets, visit atmostheatre.com.
This story contains 649 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.