Review: Happenstance Theatre Goes Greek with ‘Pantheon’

With their knack for Vaudeville, vintage American culture and classic poetry, Happenstance never fails to impress.

They’re at it again. The Happenstance Gang: troublemakers, every stinking one of ‘em.

And this time, they’re going Greek. Mythologically speaking, that is. Nix on the keggers and beer pong, their latest offering, Pantheon, is serious fun. Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell & co. have turned their phenomenal talents to revisiting stories that are as timeless as they are timely. When it’s not leaving us in stitches with its slapstick and, well, just plain good old schtick, Pantheon reminds us why these seemingly fanciful tall tales continue to teach and inspire us.

The cast of ‘Pantheon.’ Photo courtesy of Happenstance Theatre.

Constructed as a series of vaguely-connected vignettes, the show features spectacles as varied as gossipy roomies as Fates, hapless ladder crews, not to mention a shadow-theatre trip to Hades and back with a dapper, swaggering crooner Orpheus (one of Gwen Grastorf’s finest efforts ever!).

Jaster’s comic mastery is on full display when he demonstrates some of Proteus’ greatest tricks, And for the truly curious there is also a real, live divine Oracle – yup, just as wack and cryptic as the lady in Delphi back in the day. You can even scribble a question for the Oracle before the show, in hopes it will be read out to the blind, prophetic duo (Mandell and Alex Vernon in a perfectly-timed, yet utterly spontaneous spoof of your average media).

What’s so wonderful about Jaster & Mandell’s work is the way they come up with combinations of the classic, the nostalgic and the contemporary. With their knack for Vaudeville, vintage American culture and classic poetry, Happenstance never fails to impress me with their creativity and their ability to find the hidden harmonies across time and cultures which, once they reveal them, seem utterly natural. Emphasis on harmony – as three goddesses on the make, Mandell, Grastorf and Sarah Olmsted Thomas sing some of the tightest big-band vocals you’ll hear this side of the Andrews Sisters.

The Goddesses of ‘Pantheon.’ Photo by Glenn Ricci.

Elsewhere, evoking the 30’s era of factory work, the company races about the stage in classic jump suits, while Craig Jaster accompanies with a variety of ready instruments—when he’s not contributing some witty original songs as well.

Happenstance has developed an often-frenetic house style, with a fine sense of the ironic and hilarious; but they also find time to remind us of compelling contemporary issues; their rendition of the myth of Phaeton (look it up) begins like just another story, but then veers directly into the dangers of our own times. Myths endure for a reason, and it is fitting that the show closes with this suddenly relevant tale of mankind’s hubris.

Don’t miss this show – to do so would be positively barbaric.

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Pantheon plays through July 1, 2019, at Joe’s Movement Emporium – 3309 Bunker Hill Road, in Mt. Rainier, MD. For tickets, call (301) 699-1819 or go online.