By Daniel Skora
On the surface, it would seem that the current presentation of Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova might be targeting only a multi-degreed cliental. The list of characters- Hippasus, Damascus, Eloris, Theodousa, and Pythagoras – reads like the cast of a Greek tragedy.
“Pythagorus? The math guy?”
Yep, that’s him. But here, in “Irrational – The Newest ‘Cult’ Musical” by David Wells and R. MacKenzie Lewis, he’s gone screwy with his math and is passing off the square root of 2 as a rational number.
Yeah, you know, the kind that can be expressed as the quotient of two integers, a numerator p and a denominator … oh, just forget it. The philosophical issues are what’s really important anyway.
“What philosophical issues? Ain’t this supposed to be a musical?”
It is. But Pythagoras was also the leader of a movement that was well-stocked with Pythagoreans, his followers, who, besides math, were crazy about things like truth, aesthetics, and metaphysics.
“Metaphysics? I’m not sure I like what I’m hearing.”
Don’t worry. Like Groucho once said, “I never met a physics I didn’t like.” And besides, Pythagoras was a wiz with a Rubik’s Cube.
“Rubik’s Cube? How’d he acquire one of those? Time travel?”
Well, it wasn’t exactly time travel, but something very close. It was the magic of live theatre.
And “Irrational” is indeed a magical piece of live theatre. It’s got all the things mentioned above and more. Depending on where you’re coming from, it’s either math, philosophy, and Greek history transformed into a clever, funny, very contemporary story, or a clever, funny, very contemporary story transformed by math, philosophy and Greek history. Think of it as a kind of intellectual musical or a musical tutorial.
Hippasus (Sebastian Gerstner) is a travelling huckster who arrives in the Greek city of Croton looking for some action. He finds it in the lovely Eloris (Tara Tomcsik) – playful, alluring, and, more importantly, endowed with a wealthy father. Hippasus is struck by her great wealth… er, beauty, and asks her to marry him. She agrees, but only if he performs one task. He must first secure the approval of her father by impressing him with some credential that shows he is a man worthy of her hand. The eternally lucky Hippasus then just happens to stumble across Damascus (Matthew Pecek), a Pythagorean and Greek gadabout who tells him about an organization he belongs to that’s led by the inimitable Pythagoras (Elliot Styles). Though his organization is held in high esteem by many, in his own way Pythagoras is as much a scam artist as Hippasus. Barefooted and dressed like a yogi in loose-fitting white clothing, he rules his followers with an iron fist, dispensing junk science along with the good. But this time Pythagorus is out-hustled by Hippasus, who convinces him that he’s an architect and will help him to extend his influence. Hippasus is welcomed into the club, but there’s trouble brewing on the home front. There’s a Judas at the Pythagorean table – Theodousa (Emily Brett) – who not only has the scoop on Pythagoras’s fuzzy math, but has set her sights on the club’s handsome new member. How will this all play out? Perhaps the Greek chorus (Anna Marck, Esther Jentzen, and Emily Manuell), who seem to everywhere, will let us know.
An early postscript:
Yellow Barners (or is it Theatre Novians) will marvel at the creative use of “the pole”, the off-to-the-side support post that’s in every show because if they took it out, the entire Yellow Barn might collapse. It’s matured since it was seen in Theatre Nova’s premiere show “Buyers and Cellar” (with Sebastian Gerstner) and in “Chesapeake” (Sebastian again? Is there a pattern going on here?) and it’s now been turned into a rotating platform with the pole serving as the pivotal point.
As you can tell, I’ve had some fun working on this review.
I’ve done so only because it’s a fun show chock full of everything that makes theatre magical and exciting, and I don’t suspect that anybody connected with such a creative endeavor would be offended. It takes a lot of time and hard work to do the research for a show like this (much of the story can be vouched for in books) and the even harder task of capturing the sparks that come from an active imagination and putting them down into words and music. Kudos to Wells and MacKenzie.
What I haven’t covered about the show because I’ve sort of gone on too long and my dog Chance (as in “Dad, any chance we can keep him?”) is nipping at my heal wanting to go for his walk, I’ve condensed as follows in no particular order: excellent cast led by Elliot Styles; Carla Milarch director (three thumbs up!); set, lighting and pole designed by Daniel C. Walker; Styles an unqualified genius at solving the Cube – solved it in about two minutes; choreography by Carla and Sebastian (multi-talented folks, they are); good triumphs over not so good; song title you wish you’d written: “Big Boy Pants”; song you wish you’d written: “Mononymous” (a laundry list of one-name wonders like Elvis, Madonna, and Groucho); a couple of dozen totally great songs, most delivered in a talk-singing style; Hippasus (Gerstner) getting drenched in an offstage river; Gerstner (Hippasus), beating most of the audience out of the building after the show and making a mad dash for his car to avoid getting drenched again in the parking lot.
By all means, go see the show and enjoy the magic. It’s well-crafted and exciting, and offers a unique theatrical experience. It may even pique your interest in getting reacquainted with those fabulous Greeks.
“Irrational” runs through May 15th. Tickets are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $20. They are available by calling 734.635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at 416 W. Huron Street, tucked away in the Yellow Barn, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.