Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prometheus Bound at the A.R.T.

Gavin Creel as Prometheus. Photo by Marcus Stern.

This musical should be titled Prometheus's Abs. As with Hair and The Donkey Show, A.R.T.’s Diane Paulus once again uses naked flesh (in the form of Gavin Creel, again) to distract from a hot mess of a show. (Hair isn't a bad show, exactly--especially compared to the completely clothed Johnny Baseball--but it's not a particularly great one.)

For me, the most telling thing about this lackluster production is that while I continue to think of additional things I loved about The Dream of the Burning Boy that I left out of my review (the clever use of movable bookshelves, the preshow music, the awesome blackboard/backlight panel), I've already forgotten almost everything about Prometheus, which I saw only three days earlier.

Here are my general recollections of this collaboration between Paulus, Steven Sater (Tony winner for the very awkward book to Spring Awakening), and Serj Tankian (from band System of a Down, which I've never listened to):
Loud! abs! where'd they go? can't hear lyrics! on my table! plot??? hate this space! creepy chicks are awesome! LOUD!

As my husband complained to me, for as loud as the show is, and with all the jumping around, nothing really happens. And because of that, there are no character arcs. The lack of action makes the story about as engaging as reading a Wikipedia article about the myth. This is not helped by Sater's stiff and clunky writing in both dialog and lyrics (but his earlier work with Spring Awakening makes this unsurprising). Plus, the vocals are often drowned out by the music, so it's hard to follow what story there is.

 The show bleeds righteous indignation and aspires to be a political anthem for Amnesty International, to inspire the youth to rise up and take social action. But to me the script lacks heart and, worse, is mostly irrelevant to its cause. But at least there’s loud music and half-naked dancing, right?

 And the kids on the dance floor did have their hands in the air.

Eventually even the wonder of the abs wears off, and only boredom is left. As I mention in an earlier post, in the Oberon space I feel very detached from the show even when it is happening on top of my table. (I'm curious how that experience will compare to the also-immersive Hello Again, by New York's Transport Group, which I'm seeing on Sunday.)

 The most interactive the A.R.T.'s shows get is to require the audience to remove everything from their tables when the cast comes bounding up. Yes, everything, including the menu that the staff puts on the table and the drinks they sell.

Between straining to hear the lyrics, trying to follow the actors around the space, keeping my head and arms inside the vehicle at all times, and looking very hard for the point, my mind wandered. I wondered if Creel had that ripped body before or developed it over the course of this very physically demanding show, caught myself pondering his terrible dye job, then admired the tenacity of the body tape valiantly holding on the mic cord running down his back in the face of all that sweating and thrashing about. Bravo, tape!

For all its faults, though, this production has a lot going for it, which is why it's such a shame it's not better. The actors performed the hell out of the material given to them. (Unfortunately, Gabe Ebert as Hephaistos/Hermes was always breaking character--I assume an ill-chosen direction from Paulus.) A couple of the less musical-theatery songs sounded wonderful, enough overall that I'll definitely check out System of a Down, but except for the quiet ones sung by the Daughters of Aether the lyrics were so hard to hear that I don't remember which songs.

Other aspects I liked:

  • Uzo Aduba as Io. The only emotional part of the show is her story, and her pain is palpable (even though it's written as way too overwrought, she sells it). Although I wish some of her songs were quieter, subtler, Aduba acted the crap out of it.

 Prometheus is the protagonist, but whatever heart and soul this production has is Io.
  • Gavin Creel as Prometheus. Wow, the guy can sing. Imagine if he had better songs! Also, the spotlight just loves him, even when the script gives his almost nothing to do but belt out angsty songs while looking pretty.
  • The trio of Daughters of the Aether. Their songs are spooky and interesting, and I loved how Ashley Flanagan, Jo Lampert, and Celina Carvajal's voices meld together. Their movement around the club space is the only immersive aspect that makes sense for the story and is compelling rather than distracting (they're fairly peripheral to the story, lending atmosphere most of the time). Basically, they bring the cool.

  • Lea DeLaria as Force. Ok, mostly DeLaria being DeLaria, kicking ass and being generally awesome.
  • The crazy hair in the show. Especially the shaved/bright red 'do on one of the Daughters, Lea DeLaria's fauxhawk, and what the various band members sport. (Not Gavin's hair though. The black makes him look washed out, and the hair gets strangely poofy after all that writhing around.
  • Highlighting Amnesty International's work. After the curtain call, they tell the story of one suffering activist and invite the audience to sign postcards on her or his behalf. (Apparently a new activist is selected for each show.) Although I fail to see any strong connection between the show and this very important work for human rights--despite the note in the program asking "Are we in ancient Greece? Or is Prometheus a defiant dissident in modern-day North Africa? Or China? Perhaps Iran or Belarus?"--I'm glad to see the effort on behalf of Amnesty nonetheless.

All in all, it comes down to this: Once the show was over, instead of pondering Prometheus as a modern human rights hero, I was instead thinking of how much I loved the National Theatre's broadcast of Frankenstein (based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus) and Anais Mitchell's brilliant Greek folk opera, Hadestown. Both put the A.R.T.'s Prometheus Bound to shame.

For the sake of all that’s right and good, would someone please mount a fully staged production of Hadestown in Boston or New York already?

(ETA: Anais's manager says they're working crafting the show right now, to be ready sometime next year. BEST NEWS EVER.)


  1. Feel like I dodged a bullet here. I was supposed to be in Boston visiting a friend and had tickets for it, but the trip got canceled. I was super-disappointed because I do love Gavin Creel, but it sounds incredibly thin at best.

    I now feel jealous of your blog. What did you say about not thinking you'd be as perceptive as me? Shut it. You're more interesting and smarter. Curse you. :)

  2. Thank you for the very kind words. I'm doing my best to keep up with you. (Also thanks for being the first person to read this blog whom I've never met in person.)