Every year since the Richmond Acts of Faith theater festival debuted a decade ago, there have been productions that get shoehorned into the lineup with only the vaguest ecclesiastical notions included in their scripts. You might expect that to be the case with “Olympus on My Mind,” the musical romp currently offered by Virginia Rep out at Hanover Tavern, where a Greek god worrying about his sexual performance is about as theological as things get.
But amidst the comic hijinks, silly mistaken identity machinations, and peppy musical numbers, several sly little questions about perception, reality and love get tossed out, almost more effective in their exploration because they aren’t hammered home.
Of course, that’s not why most people are going to enjoy “Olympus.” The plot involves the Greek god Zeus (here called by his Roman name, Jupiter) coming to earth in the guise of general Amphitryon, to woo the general’s comely wife, Alcmene (played by Sara Sommers). When the real Amphitryon returns from war, a flurry of Shakespeare-lite complications ensue, forcing Jupiter to grapple with many all-too-human emotions.
Richard Travis gets ample opportunities to shine as he portrays both the giddy god Jupiter and the chauvinistic, combative general. With his elastic expressiveness, Travis ably traverses many ups and downs, from Jupiter’s blush of newfound love to Amphitryon’s angry befuddlement at being called an imposter. He is well-balanced by Sommers in her portrayal of Alcmene. Elegant and willowy, Sommers’ energy always seems a notch below everyone else’s but, as a result, her comic zingers and powerhouse voice both make a bigger impression.
No one is zingier in this cast then Scott Wichmann as the slave Sosia who returns from war with Amphitryon to find his identity taken over by Jupiter’s son, Mercury (Arden Moscati). Even in a supporting role, Wichmann finds ways to add mirth to every scene he’s in with his apparently bottomless bag of comic tricks. Mary Anne Furey plays Sosia’s randy wife, Charis, with a charming vigor, though her chops can’t quite match Wichmann’s. A meta-joke running through the show involves a talent-challenged chorus member, Delores (Maggie Roop), added to the cast because her husband, Murray the Furrier, backed the production financially. The bit gives customer designer Sarah Grady the chance to augment the outstanding gowns and togas of the production with some audacious furs as Roop chews the scenery with her just-ditzy-enough shtick.
Roop breaking the fourth wall adds a layer of absurdity to the already-slapstick scenes but also highlights the way the show plays with reality. At one point, Charis thinks her husband a god; at another, Alcmene won’t believe that Jupiter is one. For us mere mortals, is perception reality or is there an objective truth?
You won’t have long to ponder such deep thoughts as director K Strong keeps up the playful pace and music director Jason Marks provides rich and lively orchestrations for Grant Sturiale’s somewhat generic-sounding score. You can either dismiss or embrace “Olympus” for being a frothy bit of musical theater fluff but, with a little bit of thought, it provides plenty of fodder for late-night philosophical musings.
“Olympus on My Mind” is playing at Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, through March 16th. Go to va-rep.org or call 804-282-2620 for tickets and information.