Humor distorts nothing

Ari Hoptman remounts a comical tale of Norse gods, “I Married Odin,”at Cedar Riverside People’s Center

Keri Carlson

Religious beliefs aside, you have to admit, mythology with over 50 haughty gods and goddesses is much more entertaining than any of the monotheistic religions. Mythology offers lying, cheating, vengeance, heartbreak, power struggles and epic battles – a religious soap opera. Perhaps that explains why mythology is still studied and highly integrated into our culture: Nike, for instance. Sure the Bible has its exciting moments – David’s triumph over Goliath with merely a puny sling shot, for example – but that’s nothing compared to the havoc caused by the gods of Norse mythology. Earthquakes, floods, famines and plagues are just a smattering of the destructive tricks the Norse gods have up their sleeves.

In Fifty Foot Penguin Theater’s “I Married Odin,” the goddess Freya takes revenge on her husband Odin, the king of the gods, by disrupting his Gothic war – and in doing so converts the Goths to Christians. Upset by Odin’s extramarital affairs, Freya drags the servant goddess Fulla, who acts as Odin’s personal assistant, and the trickster god Loki into the mess.

Freya, played by Karen Wiese-Thompson, plots devilishly, but her wickedness is softened by a childish whine. Odin (Matthew G. Anderson) and Fulla (Ellen Apel) brilliantly bounce off one another in the opening scene as Anderson complains like a toddler and orders natural disasters while Fulla coolly holds everything together and quietly makes her own secret plans. The real scene-stealer in “Odin,” however, is by Edwin Strout as Loki. He comes across worse than a lounge-singing, used-car salesman. Taking a break from his usual scams (such as life insurance) Loki disguises himself as Wulfila, a Goth educated in Constantinople who returns to spread Christianity. Loki sells Christianity to the Goths just like he sells aluminum side paneling.

With the Fifty Foot Penguin Theater residing in the small, high school-drama-room-like space in the Cedar Riverside People’s Center, it’s easy to expect a juvenile performance. But it just goes to show the strength of Twin Cities’ small theater scene; every actor in “Odin” has the same impeccable comedic timing as a Second City actor. Ari Hoptman’s script is executed to side-splitting effect.

Hoptman, a German lecturer at the University, used his vast knowledge of Germanic culture and Norse mythology as a basis for the play. His creative use of mythology to explain the spread of Christianity in the fourth century Gothic kingdom make “Odin” as enjoyable as Rudyard Kipling’s fables about how the elephant got its trunk or the leopard its spots.

While most comedy that involves religion pokes fun at rules, beliefs and rituals, Hoptman doesn’t criticize religion. He has fun with religion – such as when Odin first learns of Christianity and cannot figure out right away whether there is one god or three. Rather than focus on the foolish aspects of religion, he zooms in on the hypocrisy of people. Odin laughs at Christianity’s mentality of ruling through love. He controls by means of fear. It’s probably not the best or the most politically correct way to gain religious followers, but sometimes being bad is more fun. The Norse gods certainly make the story of the spread of Christianity a lot more twisted and hilarious.

To close out the 2003 season at Fifty Foot Penguin, Hoptman’s “The Quick and the Red” plays in conjunction with “Odin.” “Red” follows Don Webber, a political campaign manager in the 1950s Cold War period. Webber becomes disenchanted with his job, family and life in general until he receives a donation from a group called “The Friends of the Beyond,” which leads him into a disarray of communism and the undead. With darker humor compared to “Odin,” “Red” shows the dangers of extremism.

“I Married Odin” plays July 7, 10, 12, 18 and 19. “The Quick and the Red” plays June 27-28, July 11-14, 17 and 19 at Cedar Riverside People’s Center, (612) 381-1110.