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You don’t need 500+ pages, a cast of thousands, De Mille-ian (or Harryhausian) special effects or rivers of blood, to go Greek. Sometimes all you require, if you’re really good is a voice, a lectern, a storyteller’s knack.
I’m told that the basics are pretty much all that Tony-winning actor Dennis O’Hare puts to use in his solo adaptation of Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad (titled “An Iliad” and now playing at the Broad Stage.) Can’t give you the scoop first hand on how that plays out, but check back on this space next week.
As for the travails of another mythological journey, that undertaken by Jason and his Argonauts in quest of the Golden Fleece, on the other hand…well pull up a chair at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. And ready yourself for mayhem.
Visible Fiction’s romping version of “Jason and the Argonauts,” adapted by Robert Forrest and directed by Douglas Irvine for Scotland’s Visible Fiction, actually has some toys to play with. Action figures most notably. Smiling golden-skinned Ken dolls, muscular half-monsters, figures with pinwheeling arms (the better for swimming). They also have newspapers that can be fashioned into small boats, kooky props, inventively inflatable dragon tails, sticks masquerading as swords and an enormous all-purpose wooden cart that is “Jason’s” toy box and highly versatile set piece.
Best of all, Visible Fiction has Tim Settle and Neil Thomas, a well matched pair of cards with the spirit of play coursing merrily through their thespian veins. The 65-minute “Jason and the Argonauts” may say it’s for those 8 years old and above, but even younger audiences will be drawn in. The pre-8 set was in ample supply at the Wallis’s Lovelace Studio on opening night.
Admittedly, with greedy monarchs, sorcerers, beasts and vengeful gods on the scene, there may be carnage. A couple of Jason’s brave (doll) crew don’t quite make it.
But lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, “Jason” begins with Thomas, shaven head and earnest, beginning to recount the tale of mighty Jason. He is interrupted by his fellow actor Settle who was not keyed in that this storytelling was going down. “We always do this together,” pleads Settle, he of the bullish torso, suspenders over undershirt and a voice that goes from bass to little boy with surprising ease.
Thomas relents, and the two men are off on an adventure, pulling out dolls, creating ships, passing the same character (be it Jason, Medea) back and forth between them, sometime within the course of the same scene. Settle knows his mythology as well as anyone; he’s also hell bent on dragooning Spider-Man (“Spider-Manicus!”) into the tale by any means necessary. They turn themselves into heroes, gods and monsters with equal finesse and sometimes with the aid of an unlikely prop. Iron birds? No problem. Clashing rocks? Hand over those trays. The fleece itself? Why it’s a coat, but you’ll believe it anyway.
Under Irvine’s direction and with both actors (especially Settle) clearly given license to shtick and break the fourth wall, things can get a little bit out of control (You’d expect any less in a room full of kids?). On the other hand, Visible Fiction is clearly on a quest for more than just the hide of a flying ram. As Thomas wraps things up intoning that this quest has been undertaken for truth, justice and freedom, Settle goes all puppy eyed. “And fun?” he whimpers.
Oh, most certainly fun. End to end.
"Jason and the Argonauts plays
7 p.m. Thursday and Fridays, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays 2 and 5 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 2 at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, $25. (310) 746-4000, www.thewallis.org.