A Utah theater review by Ben Christensen
What do you get when you take ancient Greek mythology and retell it with Christian themes filtered through the lens of twenty-first century Mormonism? You get the Zion Theatre Company’s production of Mahonri Stewart’s Prometheus Unbound. Using the story of Prometheus as a vehicle, director Sarah-lucy Hill and her cast and crew examine concepts such as atonement, faith, and agency, shedding new light on these age-old Sunday school topics.
First, a disclaimer: As a non-believer, I am not the intended audience for this show. When the performance was preceded by an opening prayer—which I’ve never seen at any other Echo Theatre show—I felt just a little uncomfortable. My favorite character by far was Erysichton, the atheist who feels out of place in a society of theists, but although many times I identified with his arguments, at other times he came across as the straw man being set up to be proven wrong at the end of the play. I found the metaphor of Zeus as Lucifer and Prometheus as Christ to be a fascinating twist on archetypes, but I enjoyed the metaphor more when it was subtle; at times the symbolism was a little heavy-handed, such as when one character calls Zeus “the prince of this world” (a rather Mormony reference to Lucifer), and when the “doubting Thomas” character verifies the resurrected Prometheus’ tangibility by feeling the center of his palms (for no apparent in-story reason, as the Titan was not killed by crucifixion). Despite the fact that I don’t fall within the target demographic, I enjoyed the show. I particularly enjoyed the feminist aspects of the story, both implicit (four of six characters who go on a quest to rescue Prometheus are female) and explicit (the goddess Artemis explains that Pandora being duped into releasing evil into the world had nothing to do with her gender [which is, of course, a metaphorical defense of Eve]).
I also enjoyed the actors’ performances. As mentioned above, I really liked Erysichton. Stephen Geis plays him as smug, sharp-witted, and sarcastic, but good-hearted at his core. Sarah-lucy Hill, who “Ben Affleck”ed this project (a reference from the cast bios to the fact that she both directs and stars in the leading role), plays Phoebe as earnest, sincere, and above all very real. Almost as important as their individual performances, Geis and Hill’s onstage chemistry contributes to the show’s success. Another favorite of mine was Noelle Houston, who plays five characters and portrays each of them distinctly and captivatingly. I had a hard time getting past the physical casting of Bryan Barlow as Heracles; the actor is in pretty good shape for a mere mortal, but he just doesn’t have the large, brawny presence that you’d expect from the famous demi-god. That said, his ferocity did come out when it needed to, and he had just the right amount of cockiness for the character. At first I found Shawn Saunders to be a better fit in his role as the playful, sassy Hermes, but his interpretation of Zeus as a conniving diva grew on me throughout the play and he really comes into his own in the final scene. Sean Hunter and Jared Cahoon make for a great comedy duo as Jason and Ajax, respectively. Rebecca Minson is elegant and regal as Aphrodite, and Mariah Proctor is appropriately intimidating as Artemis. Bellinda Purdum is cast well as Artemis’ noble lieutenant. Finally, Casey William Walker strikes the right balance of solemn suffering and righteous indignation in his role as Prometheus, the play’s Christ figure.
The Echo Theatre’s small performance area is transformed into a classic Greek setting with sheer green and white curtains draped across the stage and a few faux-marble pillars and benches. The costumes are equally simple and appropriate, with each actor dressed in brightly-colored togas (and in case you think they should all be dressed in white, the program mentions recent research that suggests ancient Greek tastes were much more kitsch than classical). As most of the actors are part of the chorus in addition to their other roles, they use simple masks to switch between roles onstage.
Last but definitely not least, the atmosphere for each scene is set with live music performed by musical director Jason Kelly, who sits just offstage in front of a piano with a guitar on his lap, a laptop beside him, and a synthesizer on top of the piano. His one-man band performance never steals attention from the actors, but rather complements their performances beautifully.
If you are a believing Christian, and especially if you are a believing Christian of the Mormon variety, and especially if you are a believing Christian of the Mormon variety with an interest in Greek mythology, you will find the Zion Theatre Company’s production of Mahonri Stewart’s Prometheus Unbound to be a uniquely interesting way of looking at your own ideas about belief and salvation. You have three chances left to see it, this Thursday through Saturday. Don’t miss out!
Zion Theatre Company presents
By Mahonri Stewart
Directed by Sarah-lucy Hill
Original music composed and performed by Jason Kelly
Performed at the Echo Theatre, 145 N University Ave., Provo
July 17 (Preview Performance), 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 26 and 27 at 7:30 pm, with Saturday Matinees at 2:30 pm