Gilgamesh, Uncovered

Summer is almost here, and theater companies are winding down their seasons, mostly with fluffy nonsense meant to lure us out of our air-conditioned caves. As ever, Nearly Naked Theatre is giving the finger to the notion that it's too hot to think; thus, its production of Gilgamesh, an ancient folktale of revenge that the company is calling "the most ambitious and spectacular production" it's yet mounted.

"The set is going to be magnificent," according to producing director Michael Sherwin. "The lighting, the choreography, the music -- not to mention the length and breadth of it. We really haven't done anything like this before."

Few companies have. Andrew Ordover's translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh premièred in 1995 in New York in a minimalist production that played to packed houses, but which led to few subsequent productions. Nearly Naked's adaptation, directed by company founder Damon Dering, is told Greek Theater style, with masks, giant puppets, dance, and original music played on ancient instruments.



Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre, 100 East McDowell Road

Performances begin Friday, June 4, and continue through June 26. Call 602 -274-2432.

The company may be promoting the show with the simple, catchy tag line "Goddess Meets Boy, Goddess Loses Boy, Goddess Gets Even," but Dering swears he's not worried that Gilgamesh is a bit rich for local audiences, who tend to flock to revues and remounts and flee from anything too provocative.

"There was a time when I'd have said we were taking a huge risk [with this show]," Dering says. "But we did Shakespeare's R & J last winter, and it played to sold-out houses for most of its run. We're hopeful people won't be afraid of Gilgamesh."

Sherwin is counting on word of mouth to draw audiences to the world's oldest folktale. "I don't expect a boffo first week, but once people hear about what we've done, they'll find the show. It's the oldest written story known to mankind, and so few people know about it. Seeing the entire epic on stage is an almost unimaginable opportunity."

Won't Nearly Naked's trademark nudie scenes also sell some tickets? Sherwin, who tends to turn up undraped in most of Nearly Naked's shows, doesn't think so. And Dering is quick to point out that Gilgamesh's brief nude scene is all about the Garden of Eden and man's shame about his nakedness.

"Gilgamesh is an enormously challenging piece of theater," he says. "It's the biggest, most expensive thing we've ever done. It's like nothing seen this season. It's part Greek theater, part musical, part historical drama, part comedy. It's really a theatrical event. And if people come to see it because they think someone will be naked, that's fine, too."

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