And then God created Gavin Creel. And his solar plexus.
That should probably be the tagline of Prometheus Bound at A.R.T., because you will see so much of both if you happen to catch Diane Paulus’s production, which closes on April 2 — on the dancefloor, and chained to a rock, and hanging from the ceiling, and dangling from the mezzanine. You might even forget that there’s an actual show happening around him.
But please don’t forget it, because in a world where so much theater sucks, or panders to your parents, or some dim idea of what your parents want to see onstage, Prometheus Bound is awesome. And kind of terrifying. And problematic in places. But if it were possible to see it 100 times, for both half-naked Gavin and the show itself, we would.
The story is a simple one: Prometheus (Gavin) gives humans fire, which pisses off Zeus (no one; he’s offstage) and gets himself chained to a rock for eternity. I know, sounds like the most miserable night of musical theater in all existence, but bear with us for a sec, because this show offers an abundance of good things.
One of them is Serj Tankian’s moody rock score. (For theater nerds: He’s from System of a Down. That’s a band.) It’s melodic without a trace of perkiness, and intricate without being indecipherable. The songs sung by Prometheus’s personal chorus of fangirls/angels/tormenters are especially beautiful in their wailing/ecstatic/rock goddess way. Earplugs are provided upon entry, but that’s mostly for patrons whose loudest concert to date was James Taylor—and trust me when I tell you that there are lots of those people in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Writer Steven Sater’s book and lyrics are less successful in the way that they blend Aeschylus’s lyricism with contemporary speech. (Remember that moment in Spring Awakening when all the kids started referring to things as “my junk” and you had no fucking clue what they were talking about, because no one of any age, of any era, says things like that? Yeah… like that.) But when they’re doing one thing or the other—being grandiose and poetical, or down and dirty—they get the story told.
There are some other issues, too. For example, the show tries, with graphic displays of cruelty and semi-cruelty, to draw ties between political oppression and S&M. Yeah, no. Those things are not the same. Nor do they hang sensibly together because like… all human motivation is ultimately sexual? Or because people are sometimes judged and marginalized because of the ways they like to have sex? Or something else that isn’t totally clear? At any rate, if you thought you’d be a fan of Gavin Creel wearing a ball gag, we promise that this show will change your mind forever and ever.
Also of note is the show’s big-singing cast, especially Uzo Aduba, who plays trainwrecked, despairing Io as both ferocious and achingly vulnerable. And Lea Delaria is appropriately terrifying as Force, one of Zeus’s cronies. You’ll see them up close, too, as most of the show is staged in, above, and occasionally directly on top of, the audience. It’s hard to imagine how this concept would ever work in a Broadway theater, but Diane Paulus has sorted out interesting ways of blurring the lines between audience an actor before. We hope she gets the chance to do it again with Prometheus Bound.
Photo: Marcus Stern