Release the Kraken

By Tom W. Kelly (for the SF Bay Times)
Published: August 17, 2006


Matt Gunnison, Queena Delany, Tavis Kammet, Nell Schwartz.
Photo by Donald Lynskey


The satyr play flourished about 2,500 years ago, delivering a bawdy evening of theatre based on mythological subjects. And true to the ancient tradition of comic relief, the Thunderbird Theatre Company merrily mounts a hero’s tale in Release the Kraken!, written by Dana Constance and Bryce Allemann, currently playing at the New Langton Arts theatre. Bursting with pop cultural references and sex, sex, sex, this full-length farce pleases on many levels.

Thanks to an abundance of jealousy amongst the Greek gods, Hera challenges Perseus to fight the beastly Kraken, the last of the Titan monsters. But fast forward to the present day, and youthful slacker Perseus/Percy works at Copious copy center. To defeat the machinations of his rival, Kraken Copy, he must complete a series of modern-day tasks. He takes a journey to the DMV and contends with the three witches who work there. Next, he heads for the Mall where another set of troublesome trials await him. Through ingenuity, gifts (aka interference) from the gods, and a perseverance almost resembling a work ethic, he comically overcomes all obstacles!
Portraying Perseus/Percy, Dan Kurtz personifies the young generation, balancing ennui with enthusiasm, teen cynicism with benevolence, and sexual desire with Extreme Frisbee. His likeable stage presence endears him to the audience, and we root for him to succeed. Nathan Tucker plays the degenerate sidekick with broad choices that always work, and Claire Rice embodies the voluptuous Andromeda with just enough reality to keep us attentive and caring. As the goddess-whipped Zeus, Matt Gunnison gives us snappy comic timing, bombast, and waylaid good intentions. Exemplifying “over the top,” Tavis Kammet tears up the stage as the evil Calibos, snarling and snorting with wild abandon. (Though, really, just a bit of snorting goes a long way.) Completing the excellent ensemble are Dirk Echols (a terrific Joe Medusa stoner), Queena De Lany, Sara Breindel, Shay Casey, Najla Jackson, and Janelle Schwartz.

Writers Dana Constance and Bryce Allemann have modulated an ancient Greek myth into a modern-day, tongue-in-cheek farce. Hostile work environment is truly a euphemism for the too-close-for-comfort depiction of today’s corporate nightmare. The horny heroes are obsessed with sex, frisbee, sex, slacking, and, uh, sex. Pop cultural references and youthful insults suffuse the kooky script, and the characters are colorfully drawn with broad strokes. And a multitude of Greek references are cleverly insinuated throughout.

Director Bryce Allemann fully understands how to sell broad comedy on a shoestring. The gods perform in declamatory style, oftentimes facing full front to the audience and speaking in exclamation marks! He allows the actors to have fun, and that carries over into the audience. But given the intimate size of the house, please turn down the volume a notch. Visual challenges (I mean, really, a kraken?!) are met with rampant creativity. Unfortunately, given the extremely epic and episodic nature of the script, the audience spends too much time in the dark as a rolling counter continually comes and goes in a noisily bumpy hokey-pokey. With just a few instruments, lighting designer David Herrigel well illuminates the profligate proceedings. And the costumes, designed by Dorie Peterson, consistently add exactly the right touches.
Release the Kraken! is lighter-than-air comedy that will put a smile onto the sourest of faces. A night of firmly-suspended disbelief and laugh-out-loud good times is just the comic relief we need from today’s “interesting times.”

Release the Kraken! continues until Aug. 26 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom St., SF. Tix, call ($17-$20 sliding scale) call (415) 289-6766 or email info@thunderbirdtheatre.com Info at www.thunderbirdtheatre.com