BWW Review: PROMETHEUS BOUND at Uprising Theater

BWW Review: PROMETHEUS BOUND at Uprising TheaterUprising is one of the younger, newer companies in the Twin Cities' rich and diverse theater landscape. They are very clear on their mission: to tell compelling stories that humanize the issues we grapple with as a society and then to convert audience response into concrete and practical action, immediately. To this end, they partner with different local organizations for each show they mount. Those organizations are present at each show to link their work to the show in a talkback and also to offer immediate steps people can choose to take....right away.

All this was explained with warmth, directness and brevity both before and after the performance of Aeschylus' PROMETHEUS BOUND I saw, by staff and board members. The issues they wanted to raise, by hearkening back to this ancient Greek tragedy about the punishment meted out by the gods to the great hero who brought fire to mankind-the first convict-are those of mass incarceration and solitary confinement as practiced in the present day USA, to a degree unheard of in other first world countries.

The intermissionless 70 minute performance was a faithful rendition of Bryan Doerries' translation, directed by Denzel Belin. It featured a young, multicultural company of 9 actors, with a woman of color in the role of PROMETHEUS. Dressed in black as Chorus, they added simple costume items to play various specific characters. The most striking visual was the choice to paint a 2" swath of color across their faces at eye height, blue for all but Prometheus, whose 'mask' was red. These, accented in some cases by white mascara, gave their eyes particular power.

Actors used inventive choral movement in unison and in canon and in pairs, and stayed on stage throughout, to lend focus to the central drama. Their performances were certainly earnest and disciplined, and almost all the words came through clearly, which is not easy with this text. Not all the voices had the kind of resonance that lends power to ancient poetry, but it wasn't for lack of effort.

Still, I found myself wishing that the leaders of this company--clearly skilled activists who set measurable goals for each audience at each performance--trusted themselves more as artists and creators. What if, using the framework of the ancient myth of Prometheus, they had devised a more pointed, modern and provocative performance, layering present-day realities against the old tale with a variety of theater tools? This might require abandoning a full translation. Be selective. Think projections. Think music. Think Viewpoints. And then keep thinking and experimenting. Given the goals of this company, it makes sense to move away from 'museum' style production toward something more jagged, more layered, more adventuresome and risky, but not reductive or preachy. Leave the earnest and straightforward productions to college drama departments teaching theater history.

The community partners for this production of Uprising were these: The Women's Prison Book Project, which had needed books available for sale and donation at the theater; The Minnesota Freedom Fund, which pays low dollar bail for defendants who lack the ability to make bail, thus allowing them to maintain their jobs, housing and custody of their children while their cases proceed; and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a grassroots organization based in under-resourced areas and communities of color to fight for economic and racial justice on a variety of fronts.

PROMETHEUS BOUND ran for just one week in the Phoenix Theater space in Minneapolis.

Photo credit: Shannon TL Kearns

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