A Dog from Hell

Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
at Duke Coffeehouse and The Pinhook
Through Feb. 15

As they have for millennia, the rich myths of ancient Greek civilization continue to fertilize contemporary art making. In Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s latest production, A Dog from Hell, we encounter several well-known characters. There’s Hades, king of the underworld that is also called Hades (which does not correspond precisely to the Christian hell), and his love Persephone (Quinn Henderson, in a captivating performance).

Hades had captured Persephone, but must release her to the upper world for part of each year, so that the grain goddess Demeter, her mother, will make the crops grow. When we meet her, she’s trying to pack for her spring trip, but Hades in his skin-tight hip-huggersthe dominating Sean Mongo Murnaneis using all his godly wiles to make her stay.

Then there’s Orpheus the musician, whose songs to his beloved, Eurydice, are so sweet that they convince Hades to release herbut Orpheus is unable to obey the one condition, and she dies again. Rather than remaining bitterly mournful in the upper world, Orpheus (filled with longing and rage by Chris Burner) returns to Hades to find Eurydice (Nicole Quenelle giving a spacy interpretation)who has forgotten him.

Meanwhile, fast friends Pirithous and Theseus are trapped in Hades on an enchanted rockthe punishment for Pirithous’ attempt to make off with Persephone for himself. L.A. Rogers as Pirithous and the voice of puppet Theseus keeps up a piquant stream of taunts and come-ons throughout the hour-long show.

Another of the Argonauts, Hercules (Rajeev Rajendran in a petticoat and Sumo hairdo), sneaks in, attempting the 12th labor that will complete his penance for killing his wife and children and make him immortal.

This dark country beyond the River Styx is served and guarded by Charon the boatman (Tony Hughes in a fabulous hell-weary characterization), who ferries visitors and new inhabitants, and by the three-headed Cerberus, a dog from hell.

The story makes it impossible not to think of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, set in Hotel Hell, but the premise is the opposite. Instead of “Hell is other people,” in this hell, the pain comes from being separated from the ones you love. As is sung so sweetly by Hercules, “I’ll be wrong until you’re next to me.” Yes, folks, there is music in hell, played loud and soft by Jeffrey Scott Detwiler, George Lam and Timothy Garbinsky, on drums, violin and keyboards, with vocals by the characters Persephone, Hades and Hercules. And as in other LGP productions, the music is fully integrated with text and action, part of the life force, although for this show the team used songs by artists like Nick Cave and David Byrne, rather than writing their own.

Other than that, the show is utterly original. Director Dana Marks brings her subtlety, musicality and sense for mercurial timing to a script called up styx creek, commissioned from Tamara Kissane and Cheryl Chamblee of both hands theatre. The LGP adaptation of their play combines the authors’ intelligent, circling explorations of the theme with LGP artistic director Jay O’Berski’s volcanic intensity and other writers’ input. The hellish lighting is by Steve Tell, the puppets by Emily Hower and O’Berski. The rest of the uncredited production design might be described as teatro povero: Charon’s barque is a grocery cart littered with empty water bottles. Other than the theatrical smoke machine, there is not all that much else, which is goodthe show moves between Duke Coffeehouse and The Pinhook downtown. Both venues suit a production that erases the line between actor and audience, but I found The Pinhook’s back room a more simpatico space for this band of bold adventurers chasing the Golden Fleece of passionate theater. If you can take the smoke, this is a hot trip to Hell.