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by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
"Prometheus Bound" Verse Drama at the YThe Tish Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y has long served the community in its artistic endeavors. Known for its lectures, readings, and concerts, the Center has also had a long history of presenting verse drama. In the past they have produced works of Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, and Derek Wolcott, to name a few. Lately, in association with the Academy of American Poets, they presented Robert Lowell's "Prometheus Bound," directed by Jonathan Miller, featuring the noted actress, Irene Worth, and Euripides' "The Bacchae" translated by C. K. Williams, the Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry.
The 92nd Street Y
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden April 10,2000
At the head of the Poetry Center of the Y is Karl Kirchwey, a published poet himself, who is interested in exploring the frontier between drama and poetry. He hopes, he says, that his project will be a "testing ground for a poets' theater.... just as the theater would expand the audience for poetry, so poetry would help diversify the language and techniques of mainstream theater." With this goal in mind, he selected "Prometheus Bound," by Robert Lowell, the famous myth that tells of the courageous God Prometheus, who, having stolen fire from Zeus, is punished for eternity by being bound to a rock. In the course of his torture, various characters visit him: the seabirds who act as a chorus; Io, a pathetic creature seduced by Zeus and banished from the land; and Hermes who challenges Prometheus to recant and be freed. Which of course he refuses to do. The actors stand in front of a roster and read from the text, not a very theatrical, or engaging mode. Although Robert Lowell is a master poet, his "Prometheus" did not lend itself to concert form; the work seemed wordy and esoteric, the narrative obscured by exposition and philosophy. Unfortunately, Jonathan Miller had no fresh ideas in staging the poem (he had directed it previously) and only the incomparable Irene Worth, in the role of Io, came to life. A dramatic actress with years of training in voice and verse, she gave a compelling performance dominating the stage with her special presence and intense authority. Hermes, played by Peter Francis James was also excellent. With his ironic, and witty tone, he cleverly gave his character flesh and bones.
A more successful production was "The Bacchae", an excellent translation by C. K. Williams. Directed by Kathryn Walker, who managed to stage the work with authentic theatricality, despite everyone reading from script. She also cleverly engaged terrific actors. Euripides' "The Bacchae" is a tale of a mortal disobeying the Gods and reaping an awful punishment. Dionysus, the God of pleasure will have his way in his debauchery, and his Bacchae women, will tear apart anyone who is disobedient. So King Pentheus is horribly destroyed when he refuses to worship Dionysus.
Brett Egan as Pentheus, Brian Murray, as Cadmus; Brian Bedford, the messenger who describes the ghastly destructive power of the Bacchae; and Kristin Linklater as Agave, Pentheus's mother, who under the influence of the Bacchae, destroys her son, gave immensely compelling performances, melding voice, diction, and verse into believable characterizations. The lighting effects by John Kelly added color to the stage, and a small chamber group playing original music by Bruce Saylor, were assembled to one side, while the actors, visible through a light curtain, sat on the other side, awaiting their cues. The scenery, appropriately designed for the small stage, was not elaborate, but right.
The performance was full of dramatic tension, and the translation by C. K. Williams was clear and to the point. Williams concentrated on the narrative--the most important element in capturing the audience. Judging by their applause, and their rapt and silent attention throughout the performance, there was no doubt that the evening proved to be an unusual and moving experience. [Croyden]
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