Left to right: Brad Oscar, Jessie, Cannizzaro and Shay Vawn in "The Gods of Comedy." Jim Cox photo
Ken Ludwig’s The Gods of Comedy does not require of its audience a knowledge of Greek mythology. Just a sense of humor and an affinity for farce that from the very outset swings for the fences. The gods in Ludwig’s world-premiere comedy at the Old Globe Theatre are Dionysus, the God of Comedy (Brad Oscar, seen last year in La Jolla Playhouse’s The Squirrels) and Thalia, the Muse of Comedy (Jessie Cannizzaro). They’re inadvertently summoned from Mount Olympus to the modern day by a frazzled young academic (Shay Vawn), who is wearing a magical necklace that was given to her by a street vendor while abroad. Frolicking and cracking wise like a seasoned vaudeville duo, the gods are there to help poor Daphne recover a priceless ancient manuscript entrusted to her -- which she’s lost.
That’s the tension, such as it is, of the play, which is in actuality a pretext for Ludwig’s broadly conceived characters to cut up, quip, mistake identities and make frantic entrances and exits from the stage. Devotees of Ludwig’s wackier comedies such as Lend Me A Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo will be right at home with this new show. So will Old Globe patrons who recall Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery and Robin Hood! In previous engagements at the Balboa Park theater.
Predictably, Oscar and Cannizzaro walk away with The Gods of Comedy, emboldened by the go-for-broke script and some clever stage effects that allow them and George Psomas as the armored, uber-macho god Ares to show off their powers. But the supporting cast directed by Amanda Dehnert holds its own. The petite Vawn is thoroughly charming. Jevon McFerrin nimbly affects exasperation as the professor who first discovers the valuable manuscript (Euripides’ lost tragedy of Andromeda). Both Steffanie Leigh and Keira Naughton shine too as a vamping film actress and a donation-hungry college dean, respectively.
As is customary at the Globe, the sets are gorgeous. These are by Jason Sherwood. They create an autumnal playground evocative of a prestigious eastern college for the visiting gods and those in their sphere to provide two hours of familiar but enchanting entertainment.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/22/19.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.