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Sex with a watermelon, more sex, cool costumes, and terrific staging are striking elements of this dynamic but uneven presentation of a Greek myth.

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Tunde Sho as Orestes and Marko Mandič in the title role in a scene from “Pylade” (Photo credit: Theo Cote)

Tunde Sho as Orestes and Marko Mandič in the title role in a scene from “Pylade” (Photo credit: Theo Cote)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]An attractive nude actor with a full erection having sexual intercourse with a small watermelon could be viewed as “shocking juxtapositions of imagery to expose the vapidity of values in modern society.” This quote describes the sensibility of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the author of Pylade, and is from the show’s program.

When the actor appeared on stage nude carrying the watermelon and began carving it with a small knife, a probable reaction to watching this might be, “He’s not going to do what I think he’s going to do.”  Considering all that went on previously the answer would be “Of course, he is!”

Earlier a man and woman were fully nude engaging in various sexual acts some of which seemed simulated and some that did not. Considering Pasolini’s acknowledged homosexuality, it is odd that the few trysts between two men depicted in the show involved one clothed and the other nude and was more suggestive rather then explicit.

The script of the play is divided into a prologue and nine episodes.  There are no stage directions so it could be assumed that much of these bonus features are the creation of the director in conjunction with the company who would have had to have agreed to perform them.

A number of the characters appear nude at times for no discernible reason.  The female chorus member while delivering a speech takes her blouse off and continues speaking while topless.  Some characters remain clothed or are just shirtless.  Perhaps there is a thematic subtext to the varying states of undress.

Marko Mandič (center) and the “Pylade” company (Photo credit: Theo Cote)

Marko Mandič (center) and the “Pylade” company (Photo credit: Theo Cote)

When the audience enters the large U-shaped Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa the cast are milling around the bare playing area convivially chatting with each other and eventually they begin Greek-style dancing.  A few audience members are brought on stage to dance and anyone who wants to could also.  Later during the show, a cast member borrows a pair of eyeglasses from an audience member.

Prominently placed in view are the musicians, Heather Paauwe on violin, Michael Sirotta the musical director on keyboard, and Yukio Tsuji on Shakuhachi and percussion.  All three are highly gifted and their work is featured throughout. They also collaborated on the excellent melodiously diverse score.

After the dancing ends, the actual play begins with the actors now becoming various characters in this retelling of the Greek myth of Orestes.  Homer, Pindar, Sophocles and Euripides all wrote versions of this saga.  In modern times, Robert Graves also wrote an interpretation of it.

Pasolini wanted to explore the supposed homoerotic bond between Orestes and his cousin Pylades in this play written 50 years ago and now receiving its U.S. premiere.  The English translation is by Adam Paolozza and Coleen MacPherson.  The plot which takes place after the Trojan War is quite involved with its many characters. One would have look it up the details as this treatment with its idiosyncratic writing and directorial fixations doesn’t coherently present it.

Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was a vocal figure in his country’s politics and is chiefly known as a director of often sexually explicit flamboyant films that conveyed his Marxist ideology.  Openly gay, he was violently murdered by a male prostitute and conspiracy theories abound about this.

Mia Yoo and Marko Mandič in a scene from “Pylade” (Photo credit: Theo Cote)

Mia Yoo and Marko Mandič in a scene from “Pylade” (Photo credit: Theo Cote)

Director Ivica Buljan is a leading theater figure in his native Croatia.  His work on this production is a grand display of dynamic staging combining dance, physical combat, and glorious tableaux.  A major flaw though is that the actual narrative often appears sidetracked by all of the spectacle and sexual asides.  At times, it verges on a parody of the “in your face theater” “happenings” of the 1960’s.

“What Does a Naked Lady Say to You?” is an episode of the television sitcom The Odd Couple that first aired in 1971 and it hilariously satirizes the theatrical avant-garde.  Felix’s new girlfriend is not the librarian she claims to be but is actually an actress appearing in a symbolism laden Off-Off-Broadway played titled “The Bathtub” where the cast appears nude.

Marko Mandič is an award-winning acclaimed classical actor from Slovenia who has worked several times with Mr. Buljan.  His talent, charisma, and physicality justify that acclaim as witnessed here by his performance in the title role.  Vocally expressive and emotionally volatile, he is truly naked through most of the play’s second half and unselfconsciously performs heroically even through the most awkward sequences.  These include the incident with the watermelon and later painting his genitals black to match those of the actor playing Orestes who doesn’t display his.

The rest of the cast are from the Great Jones Repertory Company that was founded in in 1972 by Ellen Stewart, Andrei Serban, and Elizabeth Swados.  Uniformly suited for their roles here, racially diverse, of differing ages, and displaying fine talents they include Mia Yoo, Perry Yung, Chris Wild, Cary Gant, Eugene the Poogene, Maura Donahue, Valois Mickens, John Gutierrez.  Tunde Sho as Orestes has appealing sensitivity and necessary fierceness.

Ana Savić Gecan’s costume designs are a beautiful assortment of leather and cloth garments and accessories that richly visualize a mythic representation of soldiers, royalty and country people. Lighting designer Mike Riggs artfully creates an epic scope with his vibrant work.

“Recommended for Adults Only” is the advisory on The La MaMa webpage for Pylade.  That is definitely accurate. This production only fitfully succeeds aesthetically, but on most other levels it’s confounding.

Pylade (through December 18, 2015)

Great Jones Repertory Company

Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa

66 East 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 646-430-5374 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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