Posted by: strugglesome | June 4, 2011

The Prisoner: Renegade Classic Theatre presents A Prometheus Bound, a Folk Musical

For all of our celebration of music and culture here in the North, we seem to have a conspicuous lack of jug band music. Call it our propensity to serve drinks by the glass and not the jug,  call it the sad decline of the washboard in all but abdominal descriptions, but there is just not enough twang in our tunes, I must say. Though to be fair, that’s an issue facing the modern age, really, who needs instruments strung together from twine and possum tails when you have synthesizers and itunes? It seems the time for found object style musical instruments has passed us by, because even in this time of financial woes we can still afford an mp3 player of a sort, even if it’s not (gasp) brand name. Not so lucky were the denizens of the Dust Bowl, they had to forge instruments out of tin cans and the teeth of debt collectors, as one does. And while we may look back at the 30’s with nostalgia, we must heave a sigh of relief to note that no matter how bad our own recession may be, we aren’t joining folk bands and singing about California. Yet. However, if you long for the days of New Deal style-stories, you might consider wandering over to the Society Hill Playhouse were Renegade Classic Theatre is staging their thoughtful if flawed production of A Prometheus Bound, A Folk Musical. After all, when was the last time you saw a spoon used as an instrument and not a utensil?

Prometheus Bound is attributed to the Greek Tragedian Aeschylus, though there is some debate about the historical accuracy of that action. But we shall just say Aeschylus and thank the gods that copyright laws don’t apply, shall we? In its own time, this play was considered rather radical. In the traditional narrative in which Prometheus’ actions are akin to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, that is, they set in motion a chain of events that forces humanity to have to provide for itself and eventually unleashes Pandora and her box of bad things on the world and gives humanity the worst and most destructive of all demons, hope. In Aeschylus’ piece the Gods are selfish and cruel, and Prometheus is the champion of humanity, rescuing us from Zeus’ planned destruction. Moreover, most Greek tragedies have humans as their central characters, representing the foolish and destructive actions of mortals as they try and fail to overcome the all-powerful gods. In this case the central character is himself a god, martyring himself for mankind, a Christ figure tortured daily for 10,000 years. And while this is interesting, it doesn’t lend itself to, how to put this, a plot. And while Renegade Classic Theatre has attempted to sculpt one out of Steinbeck references and a capella folk songs, the metaphors are too clouded and unfinished to add narrative to this static story.

Basically, a folk legend style  Prometheus (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) is bound to the side of a mountain, er, farm, by the union breaking bank agents of Zeus, Bia or Force (Karina Croskrey) and Kratos or Strength (Sean Bradley) and the reluctant but resigned Hephaestus (Eric Scotolati). And there he stays, caught in his chains, whining about how someday Zeus himself with topple (he doesn’t) and encouraging a chorus of Oceanids ( Croskrey, Bradley, Scotolati and Kate Black-Regan who also plays the tortured Io) to form a labor movement and make a revolution happen (they don’t), while fending off visits from various gods and destroying his liver with moonshine (a rather groan inducing way to handle the whole eagle eating his liver daily business). Stuck chained to Gregory Scott Campbell’s half-hearted set and illuminated by James Jackson’s pathetic lighting design,  Stanton-Ameisen chews up the scenery like a commie-wannabe camel, spitting out lines like sweat sodden bullets and grimacing with painfully earnest attempts at emotion. Kat O’Brien’s effective but historically inaccurate costume design decks the cast out in strategically dusty faded duds giving the girls oddly Victorian half boots and a-line skirts more appropriate to the 70’s then the 30’s. But temporal anomalies aside, O’Brien’s work is by far the most consistent and clear design, because at least it makes a clear statement about where we are and what we are seeing. The same cannot be said for the rest of this interesting but ultimately ineffective treatment of Aeschylus.

Director Michael Durkin clearly has done the work to try to make the Depression era metaphor work, and initially it does. Put a twangy guitar and a pro-labor stance on stage and you are sure to win some friends, right? But when you take away the guitar and replace it with strangely tuneless chant-singing (courtesy of Composer and music director Tabitha Allen) and couple that with a strange mix of Greek in translation and pseudo countrified drawl and you find yourself with a metaphor that has escaped itself, both in meaning and resonance.

Simply put,  one can’t ignore both the history and the current implications of these settings. We can’t help but see our current situation reflected in this setting, nor can we help but compare the Oklahoma setting of this piece to the true history of the Great Depression and find this work jarringly lacking in significance. You can either deal with the ramifications of these themes and settings or you can eliminate a concept and work directly with the text, but you can’t do both. The story itself rebels against its setting. And despite the talent of this cast, with standouts like Black-Regan’s traumatized smoky voiced Io and Scotolati’s solidly appealing if tuneless Hermes/Hephaestus the work itself leaves us confused rather than triumphant. In Aeschylus’ original work Prometheus, saturated with hubris and resentment, vows that he alone knows of a future hero (Hercules) who will someday defeat Zeus. Zeus is so enraged by his refusal to name this unborn paragon that he casts Prometheus into an abyss. Some 10,000 years later Hercules will come along and break the divine chains, allowing Prometheus to ascend and join the gods in the bliss of Olympus. The very same thing Aeschylus has spent this play deploring, the California so deplored in this production. But what can you do? It’s easy not to sell out when there isn’t anything to buy….

Flawed and fractured it might be, but it’s certainly an interesting and provoking examination of this work, and frankly, there just aren’t enough Folk Rock Greek Tragedies these days. Modernity can really be a bummer. Renegade Classic Theatre’s A Prometheus Bound: A Folk Musical runs from now until the 11th of June. Pick up tickets here.

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