Bar Harbor Times, September 15, 1994

The ring of laughter

Review by Nan Lincoln
BAR HARBOR - Richard Wagner, a man not well-noted for his zany sense of humor, is probably spinning in his grave, moaning "Achh, look vhat zhey haff done to mein song, Ma!"

Vhat zhey, uh, what they - the Unusual Cabaret - have done to the composer's 18-hour master opus is reduce it to a manageable 90 minutes, abandon the German in favor of English, change a few tiresome plot lines, and turn his mighty fire-breathing dragon into a tube sock.

So if it's a full day of sturm and drang you're looking for, get thee to the Met. But for an hour and a half of non-stop fun, try the Cabaret's newest theatrical original - The Ring Cycle, The Musical!

It all starts out rather straightforwardly with a lovely chorus from the opening of Das Rheingold, all in properly gutteral German. But, before long, the cast rebels, and opts instead to finish up in English. Although this is just the first of the liberties Goode takes with the original, and I must confess I have only seen and heard excerpts of the epic Wagnerian saga, it was usually possible to find the mythic plot despite its ditzy embellishments.

It begins when the golden ring of power - das rheingold - is stolen from the underwater Rhine Nymphs by a troll. After that, all hell breaks loose, with Gods, mortals, giants, and a dragon all searching for the stolen ring. That each of the four cabaret actors plays a number of different roles - and not necessarily those of matching genders - or that one major character, the wisenheimer dragon Fasolt, is actually just a tube sock with a tongue on Kaufmann's right hand, and that the mime refuses to keep its mouth shut, just makes everything all that much more interesting.

And Larrance Fingerhut's music ranges from comic genius to just plain genius. He has created both clever adaptations from Wagner - such as his 15-minute version of the four-hour opera Die Walkure - and has written several new pieces that for some reason Wagner never thought of, including a 50s-style number sung by that very vocal mime Inger Hatlen.

Hatlen and Dinah Seward are original Unusual Cabaret cast members, and it's wonderful to find them back again and in such fine voice, which if anything has increased in range and power in the past few years. So has their acting.

Hatlen is equally delightful as the dimwitted hausfrau wife of Wotan, who has trouble pronouncing her husband's name, and as the mouthy mime. Steward is adorable as the male half of the supertwins Siegmund and Sieglinde, who along with his perfect sister, played fetchingly by John Kaufmann, are the cloned ingredients used in the creation of the Ubermensch - or, in this case, Superman. Steward also makes an appropriately strident Brunnhilde, complete with flaxen braids, horned helmet, and impressive breastplate; that is, until Kaufmann decides he would be better in the role.

And he almost is. But Kaufmann is at his comic best when engaged in peevish arguments between himself and his own hand - you remember, the dragon Fafner? - in a sort of Wagnerian Topogiggio routine. Fafner does get his big moment, though. In the final act he is liberated from Kaufmann's hand, achieving almost dragonlike proportions so he can swallow a bad guy whole. The only problem is he still looks like a tube sock - a giant tube sock.

And if all this chaos isn't enough, the production is constantly getting derailed by some "real world" dilemma, such as the cast getting fed up with the whole thing and threatening to quit, or the director pushing them faster and faster so they can complete the tale in the allotted time, or the accompanist rushing off when he hears his wife has gone into labor.

Kerry Schryba, as Wotan King of the Gods, plays the straight man throughout most of this mayhem - keeping the frayed thread of story from completely snapping. And with his resonant baritone booming projection and stage presence, Schryba could probably play the part straighter still on the legitimate operatic stage. But, until the Met comes calling, he's a wonderful addition to the cast and, as it happens, the kitchen of the Unusual Cabaret.

As difficult as it must have been for Jeff Goode to squeeze 18 hours of dialogue into 90 minutes, and Fingerhut to do the same with the music, director Margaret Dube should be made an honorary Rhine Nymph for staging it all in a way that kept the action at a fast - no, breakneck - pace without completely leaving the audience in the dust. This is not to say that it's possible to catch everything in one viewing - only the Ubermensch himself could do that. Which is why mere mortals such as I will probably want to return to this high-velocity Valhalla several times before the days of the gods have ended in Bar Harbor.