- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Greek myths and drama can be stiff and cerebral. But "Perseus Bayou," the latest production of the Theater of the First Amendment, about a hero who kills snake-haired Medusa, could not be further from that.

It is peppered with laugh-inviting lines, cheerful music and funny-looking monsters. Playwright Mary Hall Surface and composer David Maddox have made the tale so entertaining and energetic that it becomes a perfect family affair.

Mythological hero Perseus (Dwayne Nitz) looks like Huck Finn, goddess Pallas Athena (Wanda Kelly) takes the shape of an African dancer, and the Aegean becomes the Mississippi River.

"Perseus Bayou" is set in Louisiana after the Civil War, so the characters' names have been changed to Percy and Miss Athena. They also speak with a Southern drawl, sprinkled with a little French.

The stage is simple, consisting of a Z-shaped ramp and dark, sheer drapes surrounding it. This makes it easy for cast members to create new, and always humorous, atmospheres and scenes.

When Percy learns to fish as a young boy, the wooden dock is rolled out on wheels, and the toy crab Percy catches is held by a woman clad in a Civil War-period dress. The actors who play Medusa (Dori Legg) and Hermes (Paul Takacs as a yellow, leotard-clad panther) also are the crocodiles in the Mississippi.

With multiple roles held by each of the 10 cast members — except for the ever-present Percy — and the actors' prop assistance, each person seems to burn calories like a marathoner during the 80-minute performance.

Miss Hall Surface and Mr. Maddox have kept the story intact. Perseus' mother, Danae (Sherri L. Edelen), is banished by her father, Acrisius (Steven Tipton), who fears that the daughter will give birth to a son who eventually will usurp the grandfather's power.

But with the help of the gods, Panther Hermes and Miss Athena, Danae survives, and Percy grows. One day, bad guy Polydectes (Andrew Ross Wynn), a prancing, arrogant fellow who's romantically interested in Danae, invites Percy to a party in an attempt to get rid of the young man.

Poor Percy, committing the cardinal sin of arriving without a gift to the party, gets ridiculed by Polydectes. In response, the proud Percy utters what easily could have become famous last words: "I'll get you whatever you ask for."

Polydectes seizes the moment: "[The] present I want is the Snake Lady's head."

Percy, who still looks and talks like Mark Twain's adventurer, realizing his days may be numbered, has his regrets: "Why did I say that?"

Thus begins Percy's Tour de Mississippi. True to innovative set and costume design, Percy's boat consists of a brown roller skate snug on his foot, with which he moves swiftly through the waves and holes of the river in search of the Snake Lady.

He encounters a love interest, Andromeda, or Andy (Colleen Delany), whom he saves from a giant crocodile. Andy's dad jumps for joy and remarks, "We'll be eating gator tail until next Mardi Gras."

Percy also encounters the three Gray Women, who play catch with the one eye they share, and finally Medusa.

As is customary with Greek drama, the play has narration and music. But here, individual characters do their own narration, referring to themselves in the third person, and sing part of the story. The music — live guitar, piano, accordion, fiddle and bass — is constant, folksy and warmly Louisianian.

The last song, "C'est bien," sums it up well: It's all good.{*}{*}{*}1/2WHAT: "Perseus Bayou"WHERE: Center for the Arts at of George Mason University, Fairfax campus, Braddock Road and Route 123WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 and 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 1TICKETS: $20 to $25PHONE: 703/218-6500

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