Garrett Neergaard and Jenny Seastone Stern (photo credit Jim Baldassare)

Garrett Neergaard and Jenny Seastone Stern (photo credit Jim Baldassare)

On November 23rd, 2007 Roger L. Dillon, 23, and Nicole D. Boyd, 25, liberated $8 million from the vault of AT Systems armored car company in Liberty Township, just outside of Youngstown, Ohio. Roger and Nikki hit the road with Roger’s mother and headed to the secluded mountains around Pipestem, West Virginia to hole up in a trailer and wait for the heat to blow over. Less than a week later the FBI showed up and brought the fugitives’ escapist fantasy crashing back to Earth.

Rust Belt Ohio is no stranger to poverty or desperation, and Lord knows WT loves Led Zep, chrystal and muscle cars. Children of the necrotic American working class undoubtedly yearn for escape from the grinding, miserable reality of their lives. But Roger Dillon and Nicole Boyd feature a notable twist on this tale: they were smart, and the Anglo-Saxon inspired fantasies of J.R.R. Tolkien, filtered through the world of Dungeons and Dragons, gave them access to an alternate reality where enchanting words have occult powers, and small bands of adventurers can defeat colossal, supernatural evils. Lynn Rosen (writer) and Shana Gold (director) made Roger and Nikki’s story the basis of their new play Goldor $ Mythyka: A Hero Is Born, on now at the New Ohio Theater.

Goldor $ Mythyka opens with a DJ who mimes scratching records and punctuates his speeches with beat breaks and snippets from hip-hop classics like “It’s All About the Benjamins.” He also doubles as the play’s narrator and de facto Dungeon Master. Following the conventions of standard-issue Off-Off Broadway postmodernism, the narrative is fragmented, jumping back and forth between the events of the plot and flashbacks that fill in the story. The DJ as DM acts as a 21st century Greek chorus, talking in the (euphemistically labelled) urban patois of black culture, filtered through second-hand suburban white consumer consciousness. His function as master of ceremonies provides the director a chance to show off the show’s well integrated tech, which is impressive. Consequently, the narrative is fluid, reflexive, and suitably ironic — guaranteed to please a hip Millennial audience.

Bart (Garrett Neergaard) works for an armored car company as a messenger and driver; Holly (Jenny Seastone Stern) also works for the company as a secretary. Neither have much family. Bart’s father was never in the picture, and his mother, a drug addict, recently skipped town. Holly’s mother left long ago, and her mother’s ex-boyfriend, who raised her like a father after her mother split, kicked her out of the house the day she turned eighteen. The two protagonists fall in love, construct the alternate fantasy personae Goldor and Mythyka, plan the heist, execute it, and hit the road. They are surprised to find that they have become local celebrities — “the goth Bonny and Clyde” — heroes of the working class. Incognito in a bar, Goldor and Mythyka see themselves praised by its blue collar patrons for successfully sticking it to the bankers and capitalists like Bernie Madoff who plundered American industry, loaded the working man with debt, and built McMansions in the exurbs. Before the cops catch up to them, Holly gets pregnant with a boy, Zeus (Bubba Weiler – the “Hero” of the subtitle), who appears occasionally throughout the play to foreshadow the end, wherein Bart and Holly’s shattered dreams glimmer with the faint possibility of redemption.

Bubba Weiler as Zeus

Bubba Weiler as Zeus

The juxtaposition of some favorite Off-Off Broadway tropes — hip hop authenticity, which is the only place in the modern world where heroism lives in epic verse, and superhero pop culture as a legitimate substitute for pantheistic religiosity — with Bart and Holly’s search for poetry in Tolkien’s legacy works to highlight a specific problem confronting the producers of this show: how to demonstrate Bart and Holly’s imaginative triumph over the cultural impoverishment of poor whites. The poetry spoken by Bart and Holly is supposed to be as unformed and truncated as their fantasies. Their attempt to reclaim poetry and myth from pop culture roots — comic books and D&D — is at odds with the techno-capitalist world that gives them a de-spiritualized reality, performed and recorded on TV, amplified by mass media, and denuded by the twenty-four hour news cycle.

The juxtaposition is made more poignant by the African-American community’s success in developing cultural capital during the same period. The urban DJ/DM’s commentary, a lyrical voice of street smart common sense, is a rebuke to the elevated, pseudo-Elizabethan speech of Goldor and Mythyka. References at the beginning of the play to the Madoff scandal allude to a technocratic elite who use the magic of the marketplace and pseudo-scientific managerial techniques to lock dreamers like Bart and Holly in the iron cage of Modernity. By the final curtain, Goldor $ Mythyka has dramatized the fall of the American Dream from aspiration to risible fantasy. But the best lines of the play are, in fact, the elevated, pseudo-Elizabethan flights of lyricism between Goldor and Mythyka — not the clever swag of the DJ/DM, or the noir inspired, hard-boiled dialogue between the “normal” characters. And I can’t help but wonder if Rosen and Gold didn’t find themselves occasionally boxed in, cornerd and caged by the hip-hop-ster conventions of the play’s chorus.

Goldor $ Mythyka is an unequivocal triumph for the design team Lenore Doxsee (lights), Nick Francone (sets), Shane Rettig (music), and Piama Habibullah and Jared Mezzocchi (media). Extensive use of projections, allusive sound and musical effects, and stage space sews together Lynn Rosen’s kinetic script into a coherent and moving whole. The entire cast does a professional job, but Bobby Moreno as the DJ/DM stands out, giving the play a steady current of nerve-jumping juice. In short, there is never a dull moment. The question is not, “will you be entertained?” The question is, will you leave feeling elevated and enlightened? Beyond the pop culture furor of Goldor $ Mythyka, inside its more enduring, tragic spirit, there is a lesson to be learned about the blinkered aspirations of a commodified heroism. And that is the best reason to catch this catchy play.

At the New Ohio Theater through April 27th.

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