It's a risk adapting a classic Greek tragedy into a modern-day society; even more so if you transform it into a rock opera. Yet here we are with Prometheus Bound, the latest production from the American Repertory Theater that takes (presumably) Aeschylus's first part of the Prometheus Trilogy, translated by Steven Sater (Spring Awakening) and adding lyrics that play on to the tragedy as if it happened today in some ways. Insert a rocking musical backing composed by none other than Serj Tankian (System of a Down), and what do you get? Quite possibly the first great new musical of the decade.
In today's modern world the story of Prometheus speaks many a volume, as its tale focuses on a mighty voice taking on a mightier power. The title character (played by Gavin Creel) is sentenced to an eternity of suffering and pain by Zeus, who has seen it a fitful punishment for his crime of introducing fire to the human race. After being chained by the crippled Hephastios (Gabe Ebert) Prometheus laments on his deed, not even the slightest regret in his breath as he is tortured and ridiculed by Hephastios and his cohorts Force (Lea DeLaria) and Violence (Jo Lampert). A small breath of hope appears in the form of his friend Oceanos (Steven Goode, taking over as the understudy for the absent Michael Cunio), though it is short-lived when Oceanos chains Prometheus back up for not following his lead. As he comes across the likes of Io (Uzo Aduba), Hermes (Ebert) and the Daughters of the Aether (Lampart, Ashley Flanagan, Celina Carvajal) it is clear to Prometheus that in order to make his greatest point, he must be struck down by Zeus's mighty bolt and made an example for, with hopes that humanity will follow in his revolutionary tactics.
It's one thing to recreate an Ancient Greek tragedy for the modern age, but it's another for it to still spark the same message it made eons ago. For Sater -- who translated the play from Greek to English while in the hospital (long story) -- he managed to make it look like a mere cakewalk. Perhaps it has to do with the recent happenings in the Middle East, but the story of this mighty Titan breathes present day life into not just the production but also the theatergoer's minds. You can see the wanting of change in the eyes of the performers, and even if it was just for a show it was ridiculously convincing. Creel's performance was filled with pain, anger and retribution, and he gasped, spat and screamed his way through the production. You could just feel the torment Prometheus was going through. Then there are the scenes with Io, who literally falls to her knees and cries when she realizes that her pain is just beginning, but a shining hope in her eyes fills when there is to be good to happen to her after she suffers. When Ebert appears as Hermes -- with winged sneakers and all -- you can't help but crack a smile, even as he's just about to torment the Titan.
What's more the Ensemble as a whole brought life both on and offstage, but also got the audience to jump around and dance around to the music in the production. Sater played his greatest move by getting Tankian to write the music for his lyrics. Ranging from rock and soul to screaming metal and hip hop the music flowed through Prometheus Bound like an epic waterfall. Had it not been for the older crowd in the floor area the theatergoers could've easily started a mosh pit during such showstoppers as "The Hounds of Law" and "Nothing Like A Tyrant's Gratitude." The house band, known in the program as Choke & Jerk, could easily start a rock life of their own as soon as this production ends, as they brought a vibe that could easily be compared to the likes of Serj's own backing band The F.C.C.
Emily Rebholz's costume designs ranged from the concertgoer gear (the Groupies' attire) to the crazily wonderful (Oceanus's iguana-like vest). It helped to build not just the vibe of a pure unadulterated rock show, but also the mythical world of Greek gods and early mortals. Though not much of a set the idea that Riccardo Hernandez had for Prometheus Bound fit well with what Sater was trying to convey. Adding the action within the audience pit also gave way to more interaction amongst the theatergoers and the ensemble. This is the era of Holy Shit Theatre after all, and there were plenty of those moments thanks to the A.R.T. bringing more of the action around and inside the audience rather just in front of them. In laymen's terms: Prometheus Bound is more experiencing theater rather than just watching it.
Take heart that Prometheus Bound is all about standing up for what is right, even if it may cost you some punishing aftereffects. While it may have something of a tragic ending the idea and feeling of hope still reigns supreme over the pain and suffering that the Titan Prometheus had to overcome. A strong reminder of conviction overcoming anguish came from one of the show's sponsor's: Amnesty International, who at each show dedicate the performance to someone in the world who is trying to change the world for the better. Prometheus Bound is a rock opera event that words don't do justice for, no matter how much praise can be said about it. Cross your fingers that the production will move onto Broadway (where it could easily sweep the Tony Awards), or at the very least have a cast album released in the near-future. This is one Titan's boundless moment that you can't miss.
***** (out of five)
Prometheus Bound is now playing through April 2 at OBERON, located at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, MA. Tickets are on sale on the American Repertory Theater's official site.