A child of its times – the rebellious and incendiary 60’s – THE SERPENT was first presented in 1968 incorporating the innovative techniques of improvisation, dance, and mime. Author Jean-Claude van Itallie’s play reflected a world of angry and disaffected young adults seeking answers, often to the unfathomable and imponderable, as they faced a world marked by war, assassination, and violence. Perhaps one of the most successful ensemble works ever produced, THE SERPENT won the 1969 Obie Award.
The Odyssey Theatre makes a sort of history by reviving THE SERPENT, which had its West Coast debut at the Odyssey Theatre in 1970 – exactly fifty years ago. Even more interesting, Ron Sossi directed both the original 1970 and the current 2020 production as part of the Odyssey’s fiftieth anniversary “Circa ’69” season. THE SERPENT examines the Bible – especially the Book of Genesis – in light of modern-day experiences, attitudes, and values. To quote director Ron Sossi, “THE SERPENT is a ceremony…a ceremony for the theater…highly representative of the bold and theatrically rich work that burst out in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s…eclecticism is the name of the game…rituals, acrobatics, Greek choruses, comedy, myth, audience involvement, and physical ensemble dynamics abound…a provocative and magic glimpse of where we’re at as a species.”
The ensemble cast of 13 proves to be a nimble, exuberant, energetic group of multi-talented actors who clearly “get” the message which THE SERPENT was meant to deliver. Words play second fiddle to the language of motion as that tantalizing apple is flashed in front of Eve and Adam – and the audience. Just a tiny bite proves to be catastrophic as the tempted pair slowly discover a knowledge which they aren’t ready for – and begin the process of multiplying the meager population of the earth. The serious is interspersed with the ludicrous as the world inexorably expands to meet the new demands placed upon it.
Set consultant Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has a relatively easy role this go-round, since the stage is nearly empty except for the active cast. Denise Blasor’s and Josh LaCour’s costumes are motley collections – keeping the memory of experimental alive and well. Chu-Hsuan Chang’s lighting, Christopher Moscatiello’s sound, Kate Coleman’s choreography, and Diana Cignoni’s video designs may well play as great a role as the cast in formulating the production. The show runs for an hour without an intermission.
On a historical level, THE SERPENT is an intriguing peek at experimental theater in the 60’s and 70’s – a chance to see and appreciate the highly innovative theater which grew up at a time when people were questioning the status quo and attempting to think outside the box. AUDIENCE ALERT: THE SERPENT is a non-linear, post-absurd production which reflects a specific slice of time in American theater.
THE SERPENT runs through May 3, 2020, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $32 to $37. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 or go online.