BWW Review: PRIVACY SETTINGS: A PROMETHEAN TALE Dares Audiences to Question What is Happening Behind The Screen
Standing in line at The Vortex to see PRIVACY SETTINGS: A PROMETHEAN TALE was like watching a one-act play in and of itself. Each patron crammed into the hot box office to retrieve tickets, hand over their phone number, and sign an agreement before viewing Heather Barfield's latest conceived work. I watched in surprise as the well-rehearsed box office workers recited, "Leave your phone on," and "If someone calls or texts you, answer it during the show". Definitely, this was the first time I have ever been told to turn my ringer up during a performance. Challenging the status-quo seemed like the mission, the further I got in line. To my surprise, a woman and her husband actually refused to sign the document and provide their information. Consequently, they left in a huff and I admired the level of commitment this theater has to it's theatrical vision - regardless if it is disagreeable to some patrons. I happily signed, knowing well my status as a Broadway World reviewer would most likely mean my phone number would be selected. Needless to say, within 15 minutes of the show starting, I received a text to stand and read aloud to the audience. It was definitely exciting, and I could see others in the audience checking their phones to see if they also had received covert instructions. This element shows the level of avant-garde theater being produced at The Vortex, even before entering the house.
Moving into the warped version of the classic mythological story of Prometheus (played by Trey Deason), it is important we understand the original tale to add context and depth to this newly-reinvented telling. In all accounts, Prometheus was first presented as a protector of mankind. After angering Zeus over the Trick at Mecone, Zeus decides to hide fire from mortals as punishment for Prometheus' treachery. In an effort to help humanity again, Prometheus manages to steal fire back and shares it with the humans. The wrath of Zeus ends with putting Prometheus in chains and the creation of Pandora (the first woman - she was created in an effort to bring trouble to men). To add to the cruelty, an eagle would venture daily to consume Prometheus' liver, and since he is immortal, this pain would be felt everyday for the rest of eternity. Consequently, Pandora (played by Susan Bennett) was also given a "box" with great power. Innocently, one day Pandora peeked inside - by doing so she released all evils into the world while managing to keep 'hope' inside the box. Bringing a twist to this classic story, PRIVACY SETTING'S reimagines Prometheus as an Edward Snowden-like character, chained for sharing his "fire", or knowledge with everyday citizens. Specifically, the knowledge of Zeus/government corruption and manipulation. Pandora is represented through IO (pronounced EYE-OH, played by Leah Wineland), an artificially intelligent robot programmed to learn of mankind. This transition was smartly done with the classic beautiful silvery gown, replaced with what looked like a futuristic outfit - the design was presented with great attention to detail. Although, at one point in the show there is a literal eagle puppet that consumes the middle section of Prometheus, the elements are given a creative and post-modern view of this classic tale.
Act I was creatively staged, with inspiring projectors displaying interesting images with a focus on technology, making Prometheus' soliloquies seem more poetic. Scenic Designer (Ann Marie Gordon), Lighting Designer (Patrick Anthony) and Video Designer (Sergio R. Samaya) shared their vision by bringing together a very visually moving and striking piece of experimental theatre. The term experimental theatre should be used wisely, and for this show, the shoe fits. All the elements came together in ACT I - leaving the audience desiring a bit more of the cheesy yet deep original songs in addition to the human element of adding humanity to what is happening behind a user's screen. ACT II is where the experimental aspect took off - all over the place. Audiences are split up and taken by the actors around The Vortex grounds for what I would describe as 'interactive theatre'. The audience are now players and a part of the show, tasked to hunt for mysterious "boxes", ask questions of the staged bar patrons, and most importantly offer a 'secret' to Prometheus for "encryption charades". Although brave in concept, the execution of the traveling groups was confusing and felt like a tug of war between the actors. However, this is experimental theatre and the actors' commitments to their characters' goal was strong and unwavering, even if it was convoluted by their peers.
PRIVACY SETTINGS: A PROMETHEAN TALE playing at The Vortex is a different cup of tea. You will question a lot of what you think about 'privacy', 'conspiracy' and avant-garde theatre. The commitment of this venue shows the community involved in this experimental type of theatre with all it's originality and daring concepts. Bringing classic Greek mythology through such an interesting and modern transformation can only be executed by committed professionals. This show dares audiences to find the similarities and laugh at how ridiculous modern culture is behind all of our screens. In a world where everything from your next date to soy milk is found online, nothing is safe, nothing is private, and Barfield shows us the humanity behind these decisions and their consequences. PRIVACY SETTINGS: A PROMETHEAN TALE proves that while knowledge is indeed power, being careless with this fire of the gods can leave one burned.
PRIVACY SETTINGS: A PROMETHEAN TALE
MAY 25TH - JUNE 18TH
CONCEIVED AND DIRECT BY: HEATHER BARFIELD
Photo Credit: MELISSA VOGT