By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief
According to Aristotle, comedies back in Ancient Greek times suffered the Rodney Dangerfield issue they share with modern Oscar competitions: No matter how smart or profound, they could get no respect.
But Aristophanes, as the so-called Father of Comedy (Dubious claim: Flatulence jokes were daubed on Sumerian walls a thousand years before the rise of Athens), made a nice living because his plays could be reworked in a dozen ways.
And so is spawned “The Frogs,” a prizewinner for the comedy daddy in 405 B.C. and likely to be a hit once again at the Getty Villa next month.
It’s a broad, buddy-buddy road comedy.
In the original, Dionysus and his savvy slave Xanthus travel to the underworld to retrieve the recently departed Euripides because Greek drama has gone to hell without him.
Sadly, there is only one frog chorus, encountered when our Wooster and Jeeves-alikes are crossing a lake. An irritated Dionysus gets into a croak-off, which, of course, he loses.
There are monsters, obscene jokes, virgins, exhortations to win the contemporary Athenian war against Sparta (they lost) and a climatic poetry slam, which turns the plot upside down.
As does the Getty version, which has been renamed “SAPO,” which, according to Miriam-Webster, means toad in Spanish. So maybe it’s a “warts and all” production—ah, comedy gold.
It is staged by Culture Clash, one of the nation’s best-known Chicano-Latino performance troupes for three decades. The core trio—writer/actors Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Suguenza—has covered the waterfront from sharp comedies to brutal social commentary.
They create “site specific” works, so you may not see this show anywhere else. And that includes what are described as “slippery hippie lily pads.”
The plot has been mashed up: Yes, there is a road trip going seriously down under, but there are also references to the recent fire storms near the 405 freeway.
And SAPO is now a Latin rock band (think Los Lobos), pursuing a record label executive from Westside beachside parties to Valley swap meets.
The music will be played live in the wondrous Getty amphitheater by Buyepongo, joyous Long Beach rascals whose name means “to cause a ruckus.”
They too mash up the script, blending hip-hop, punk, funk and jazz with the sounds of the Pan-American diaspora such as cumbia from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Dominican merengue and punta, the music of the Garifuna people (now largely displaced to Houston, of all places).
Check them out on YouTube.
At these evening Getty shows, the management always politely ask the audiences to leave quietly to avoid annoying Palisadian neighbors.
They don’t usually say much about dancing, but it could be a magical night.
“SAPO” will be performed at the Getty Villa on select dates Feb. 4-18. There is, the Getty warned, language that might not be suitable for children under 13.
For more information, visit getty.edu.
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