Glamor! Intrigue! Vicious passions and overwhelming venality! Picture the scene: a beautiful boy plays with the hearts of three proud, handsome ladies. This isn’t “The Bachelor,” or “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” though the characters in this show hail from nearby the ancestral lands of the Kardashians. This reality show took place thousands of years ago on the hills in the shadow of Mount Ida, and instead of a “first impression rose” this Ganymede has a golden apple for the fairest of them all.
“Judge Me Paris” is Austin McCormick’s take on “The Judgment of Paris” (1700 anno domini scriptum) a courtly masque in the tradition of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones with libretto by William Congreve and music by John Eccles and John Weldon. Congreve, who penned the famous phrase “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, / Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d” in 1697, was the English master of “manners” comedy – a genre that emphasizes courtly intrigues and affairs of the heart. Eccles and Weldon’s music is high baroque, trilling and aristocratic. The neoclassical subject matter evokes an age when allegory, history, and rich symbolism were employed to celebrate and exalt sexuality.
The Restoration has been a popular source of inspiration for contemporary artists. Think of New Romantic music videos, and the many, many costume dramas that revel in high hair-dos, pancake powder faces with black beauty spots, and mantuas wider than a lady’s wingspan. It is the original age of the “metro-sexual,” when masculinity and femininity were highly artificial poses (in the good sense). McCormick’s production fuses the high-art ambiguity of that aesthetic with elements of contemporary burlesque and modern dance to produce a work that is both very recognizable and exhilaratingly fresh: Bob Fosse meets “The Way of the World.”
In brief, Discordia, goddess of strife, decides to stir up trouble by throwing a golden apple inscribed “to the fairest” at the feet of Juno, Pallas Athena, and Venus. The ladies all assume the apple is for them and trouble ensues. They ask Jupiter to settle the matter, but he refuses. (As Juno’s husband and brother he knows better.) So he picks Paris, beautiful son of Priam to judge the contest. Juno offers him the kingship of all the world. Pallas Athena offers to make him the most famous general ever. Venus offers him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. The rest, as they say, is history – tens of thousands of lives lost, Troy burned to the ground and the house of Priam destroyed.
But “Judge Me Paris” is only concerned with the beauty pageant. Mr. McCormick pulls out all the stops to make the pleas of the goddesses visually stunning and musically ravishing. Juno, Pallas, and Venus sing and dance short pieces from the Restoration original while borrowing from the language of burlesque. Brett Umlauf as Pallas, Amber Youell as Juno, and Brittany Palmer as Venus give enchanting performances, and Sean Gannon is smooth and muscular as Paris. The set, sound, and costumes are inspired, and Jeff Takacs as Zeus [sic] – who wrote his own divine MC interludes – exudes a pure masculine ease that is perfectly counterpoised to the raging estrogen of the goddesses. The total effect is an escalating succession of sexy, gender-bending tableaux that crank up the heat, and the desire, until the orgasmic climax.
Judge Me Paris
May 17 – 27, 8pm
303 Bond Street Theatre
303 Bond Street, between Union & Sackett
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Tickets: $40 and can be purchased online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com or by calling 1-800-838-3006.
Running time is 75 minutes.