The retelling of classics, especially Greek fables and tragedies, is going through a revival in the contemporary arts and theater world. But what the makers of Prometheus Bound have that few other revivalists do is an actual Greek scholar as a playwright. Nicholas Rudall, Chicago’s renowned classicist, was present front and center to see his play come to fruition on opening night at City Lit Sunday, and he told the players afterwards how pleased he was to see them enacting something he had spent so much time working on. Apparently, he’d had the idea for over 20 years and had been discussing the staging concept with director Terry McCabe for as long as that.
The tricky thing about Prometheus Bound is that it was written by Aeschylus (although some debate his legitimacy as writer) over 2000 years ago. As a dramatist he was a known innovator of his time—but the pacing of a drama in those times was a bit different. Prometheus Bound is really only part one of a trilogy (which Aeschylus invented and for which he should be thanked daily by the motion picture industry) and it’s the talk-heavy monologuing part—the part where our hero is chained to a rock for all eternity as punishment for making humans out of mud and them giving them fire. Other than being chained to a rock and getting a few visitors, nothing much happens plot wise. Prometheus spins a good yarn though, and like anyone who has spent a lot of time stuck somewhere, he becomes somewhat of an unreliable narrator, boasting about his accomplishments, revenge, his all-seeing eye of fortune, etc. It is interesting to see how he is able to lure in his storytelling victims this way, and we are lured in to the tale ourselves, as he dangles just enough information to get the raindrop goddesses (the 3000 daughters of Oceanus), Hermes and Io to stick around and hear about the eventual overthrow of Zeus, the despotic leader they all fear. The company of puppets and an original score by Kingsley Day does much to help the pacing, as do the voices of the chorus who sing queries to Prometheus.
The sheer drama of the production, the sweeping vista of a mountain, booming voices, singing, it all begs for a grand stage and City Lit’s more intimate environment can make the premise feel a bit overwhelming at times. Add to that a style of puppet that is slightly dated compared to today’s contemporary puppets and you get a sense that this classic play is itself out of time. Nevertheless, the puppeteers did well to convey a sense of otherness—which was a desired outcome—according to the literature provided “the play’s other characters, supernatural beings without meaningful connections to the human race—will be portrayed by puppets so that their physical appearances are not limited by the human form.” This nebulous quality of the gods might have been better displayed on a large stage with ample budget money invested in the design and tech needed for their transformation. The result instead is that the materials the puppets are made from makes it feel incongruously more like a children’s play. In spite of this, the poetic topic of fate, delving a bit deeper in to Greek myths we all remember from childhood, and the commitment of the actors kept things on track, carrying us along so that what was essentially an 85-minute conversation did seem to go by rather quickly, caught up as we were in Prometheus’ thirst for freedom and revenge.
Of special note, the play’s two human actors, Mark Pracht (Prometheus) and Kat Evans (Io), were riveting. Pracht, though doomed to stay in one position for the whole play, used his voice and expressions alone to convey the shades of his character. Evans in particular brought a much needed level of expression through physicality and embodiment to the stage with her maneuvers while trying to escape the suffering of gadfly bites.
Prometheus Bound will run through June 10 at City Lit, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr. Tickets can be bought here or by phone at 773-293-3682. Tickets are $32 but $12 for students and military, $27 for seniors.