"Tantalus"

The Shotgun Players raise the bar with a staged reading of John Barton's daunting 10-play cycle
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PREVIEW Last year's audacious staged reading of the complete Tom Stoppard trilogy The Coast of Utopia saw the Shotgun Players expanding their already broad horizons to encompass a rarely performed heavyweight piece exploring the roots of Russian radicalism. This year, they've raised their own impossible bar even higher, with a staged reading of John Barton's daunting 10-play cycle Tantalus.

Performed only once in its entirety — in Denver in 2000 — this marathon of myth was Barton's attempt to fill in what he has termed the "gaps" in the Epic Cycle, which described the rise and fall of Troy in a series of epic poems, many of which have survived only in fragments. Sire of the doomed house of Atreus, Tantalus doesn't actually appear in his own titular drama, having already been imprisoned by the gods for stealing their ambrosia — and offering up his son in a savory stew. But the rest of the squabbling pack — Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clytemnestra, et al. — play a role, along with a host of heroes, gods, and poets. Performing one-third of the great work on each of three successive Wednesdays, the Shotgun Players are poised, with this epic endeavor, to tantalize us.

TANTALUS Wed/14, Jan. 21 and 28, 7 p.m.; $150 for three performances. Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berkeley, (510) 841-6500, www.shotgunplayers.org

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