This year's Shotgun Players free summer show, Conrad Bishop and
Elizabeth Fuller's Ragnarok: The Doom of the Gods, is an epic undertaking,
loaded with masks, puppets, and double-crosses as the ancient Norse
gods struggle against their fate. The first act is terrific. The
The ancient framing device involves three actors performing for
a wealthy patron. This play-within-a-play begins with the gods up
to their usual merry pursuits in Asgard, singing, scheming, and
eating apples that keep them young. But Odin's beloved son Baldur
has been having nightmares about Ragnarok — an apocalyptic
battle between the gods and everyone else. So Odin sends Thor and
Loki as emissaries to the Primals, hoping to get some intel. That
does not go well for our heroes, who are easily trumped by their
much-smarter hosts, and they must return to Asgard to begin evasive
maneuvers. In the second act, Loki reveals his real agenda —
trying to get revenge for mistreatment by the other gods —
and then there's lots of singing and running around, culminating
in a moment of hope.
The Shotgunners use Ryan O'Malley as the actor Snorri, with Erin
Carter as his wife, the actress Helga. Both really let out the throttle.
Carter is a bigger presence than she has been in other work: There
was no way to know from her turn in Impact's Nicky Goes Goth that
she could hold a large space, but she's wonderful here. The script
has Helga going on a bit heavy-handedly about her unborn baby, but
Carter carries it. The husband/wife interaction between the two
is lovely. And O'Malley is fantastic, especially as one of Snorri's
many characters, Thrym, King of the Frost Giants. "You've come
from the gods in Ass-guard?" he taunts Loki when the trickster
god comes to retrieve Thor's stolen hammer. Thrym wants Freya, the
goddess of love, so he can make "lots of little Thryms, faster
than [Thor] can smash 'em!", and the scene where Loki obligingly
brings the new bride to Thrym is brilliant.
The other strong segment is Loki and Thor's trip to see the Primals.
Draped in Christine Crook's seaweedy costumes, speaking and moving
in tandem, the Primals blend funny and creepy. "You want Happy
Meals? Play games like nippers?" they ask the exhausted gods.
Thor (a brusque Nikolai Lokteff) does a truly impressive backbend
in a drinking contest against one of the Primals, and Loki gets
outmaneuvered. Thor and Loki tangling with the Primals is a lot
of fun, and points up the production's strength. When the gods are
being clever, things move. When they're worried, things grind to
According to legend, the gods knew exactly what was going to happen
to them at Ragnarok, down to which god would fight which giant.
Why then does Odin keep saying that he can't see what's coming?
He sacrificed an eye for wisdom and crucified himself on Yggdrasil
the world-tree so he could read the runes, but he's pretty ineffective
for all that. Roham Shaikhani is stiff as the breast-feeding-obsessed
Odin; he's not nearly as varied as wife Frigge, the goddess of marriage
(Fuller), who constantly snipes at him about his womanizing. And
it's ironic that the gods are constantly deriding the Primals as
evil when it's the gods who are the ones making bad deals and bopping
them on the heads.
There's good stuff in the text, like Thor insisting, "I can't
build; I can kill. Let's kill!" Bishop and Fuller give more
of a rationale for Loki's turn to the dark side than other writers
have, making him a more interesting character (and Ben Dziuba is
not only a fabulously physical Loki, but the actor who seems most
at ease with his mask). They take several opportunities to tie in
modern politics and events — maybe a little more than is strictly
necessary to get the point across, but this is a Shotgun show. The
overall story arc is engrossing, the choice of what to include and
what to leave out judicious.
But then there's the singing. The songs blur into one long dirge,
losing the story's momentum. My heart sank every time Odin called
for Braggi to cue the music, as well executed as the accompaniment
is. The actual death of the gods, which takes place during a song,
is confusing and dull. And some of the technical choices probably
could have used more time to come together. The choice to mask the
actors was gutsy — there are whole curricula devoted to mask
work, it's that difficult — but here it just makes expressions
hard to see. Making the goddess Hel, ruler of the underworld, a
puppet operated by three people is pretty cool, but having her voiced
by the same three doesn't jell.
A friend claims to know someone who got away with writing a whole
review of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, another take on the
Norse mythos, in six words: "Dwarves steal gold; gods get mad."
No small feat for an opera that takes fifteen hours to perform.
Shotgun's Ragnarok requires just one afternoon in the park, not
four nights in a stuffy opera house. But it could still stand boiling