“You gouge out an eye for keener sight. Is blindness vision?”
—Frigge to Odin
In a landscape of gray granite slabs and boulders, in front of
a primitive structure with massive stone lintel-like dolmens, at
the foot of the stony amphitheater of John Hinkel Park, a troupe
of players open their trunk of masks and costumery to reenact the
End of the World: Ragnarok: The Doom of the Gods, Shotgun Players’
free offering to a summer day.
The End has happened before, and will again, but not just as repertory
theater. The Players break up the mythic action by musing on the
meaning of what they act out (presumably before some mead-soaked
audience of Viking vassals and their liege lord, as much as the
Berkeley picnickers sprawled in the leafy shadows of the hillside):
“We tell the stories the Norse cook up; we can’t change
them ... These are gods. There’s nothing funny about gods.
They’d as soon kill you as look at you ... Hope at the end?
This is the End of the World, but look at the bright side?”
And Snorri (after the skald, Snorri Sturlesson?), head of the troupe
(played by Ryan O’Donnell), reassures Helga (Erin Carter),
his pregnant wife: “We’re not in it.” “Are
you sure?” she counters.
The ensemble of ten pulls out the stops to tell the story of the
pagan gods awaiting their long-heralded doom, running through the
changes of a variety of modes: “Presentational Theater,”
Physical Theater, storytelling, a kind of pageantry, song, dance,
and very impressive puppets for Loki’s monstrous brood which
make brief but effective appearances. This isn’t Wagner’s
Gotterdamerung, but something more intimate, to be told in a wintery
hall at a feast, or in a summer glen, to kill time. The gods prove
to be the ultimate party animals, killing time (and a few Strange
Ones along the way) engagingly, as they slip ever nearer the awaited
There are all the episodes familiar to anyone who ever browsed
a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology as a kid. Thor (Nikolai Lokteff)
and the always suspect halfbreed (part god, part Primal shape-shifter)
Loki (a particularly effective Ben Dziuba) go spying on those Funny
Ones, the Primals (aka Strange Ones, Fierce Ones, Frost Giants,
etc.) under the pretext of a social call, only to be asked to join
in the fun-and-games and losing. Thor is unable to down a horn in
a drinking bout. It turns out to be the ocean.
“I thought it was lousy beer!” he blurts out. Swift
Loki is unable to leave the racing blocks before his effete opponent
holds up the token of victory—his opponent is Thought, faster
than motion itself. Mighty Thor is wrestled to a draw by an aged
crone (Old Age herself, who is beaten by no one) played by Rebecca
Thor also shows up in drag as a bride, his bristly beard veiled,
disguised as beautiful Freya (a charming Jessica Kitchens), as blackmail
for his stolen hammer. When it’s returned as the bride-price,
he takes the wedding party over the top with it, as surely as disguised
Ulysses dealt with Penelope’s suitors.
But it’s not all fun and games, or shock-and-awe from life-size,
animated action figures. There’s the death of Baldur (Danny
Webber), the beloved god of light. It seems nothing can kill him
... except a sprig of mistletoe shot to his heart. “I’ve
lost my son. Tell me how to grieve!” shouts Odin the All-Knowing
And underpinning it all is a very topical anxiety: security, the
trade-off between Love and safety emphasized over and over. Is the
return of Thor’s hammer worth the loss of the goddess of Love
as a hostage bride? Or is the building of unbreachable walls for
their haven, Asgard (or, as the red-nosed Funny One with the hardhat,
Darren Blaney, calls it in Texan, “Ass-Gard”), an exchange
for Freya, who makes life worth living, who is in fact the wellspring
and continuity of life itself?
The playwrights of this original production, Conrad Bishop (who
also directed—and very well) and Elizabeth Fuller (a fine
Frigge) explain the anachronisms in the program notes thus: “We
look at the past—whether we call it history or myth—in
the way we look at a pond’s surface, seeing a few things beneath
the water but struck most strongly by our own reflection. And as
any politician knows, the past becomes the story we tell about it.
More dangerously, we become the story we tell about it.”
This post-Christian, secular Humanist-ized treatment of myth veers
back and forth between the irony of Plato and the burlesque of a
Fractured Fairy Tales cartoon.
It ends with a round dance, Loki in the middle, representing the
long-awaited disaster, heralded by a bugler (no archangel) who complains
he’s never blown the thing. And it does end on a note of hope—life
goes on, the unborn baby kicking, a slip from Yggdrasil, the World
Tree, potted up.
And the show goes on, too, weekends till Sept. 10.
It’s one of the things Shotgun does best; you don’t
have to wait till the end of the world to enjoy yourself.