Huntington Presents a Flawed 'Persephone'
Performances: Now until May 6 at the Wimberly Theatre, Stanford
Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center
for the Arts
Tickets: By phone at 617-266-0800, online at www.huntingtontheatre.org, or in person at 264 Huntington Ave. or 527 Tremont St.
There are many ways to describe my feelings after the close
of the Huntington Theatre Company's Persephone,
but one word sums it up bestempty.
This word is also quite effective in summing up the play
itself. Not literally, of course, but I realized as I left the theatre, Persephone has no real substance or
emotion for almost the entirety of the two-hour ordeal. The human connection, the
depth, the spectacular quality that makes you realize beyond a shadow of a
doubt that you have just walked out of a brilliant work of theatre were all
missing. Like the play's title role (a marble statue of Demeter), Persephone simply existsnothing more,
That might be a bit harsh; it's
quite obvious that Haidle tries for more as he follows the Demeter over five
centuries from her creation in 1507 to her current day experience in a New
York City Park. Except
that he doesn't actually follow the statue for the centuries, but rather attempts
to link the first act, set in 1507, and the second act, set in the present day,
with all too convenient dialogue from Demeter, who serves as the play's narrator.
Sound implausible? It doesn't work too well on stage, either.
The problem isn't Haidle's
writing, which at times had me so moved I almost thought I was watching a
different play, but rather the fact that he's doing entirely too much to do anything
to an exemplary standard. There is an observation on the consistency of human
nature. There is a commentary on present day society. There are parallels between
physical and artistic violence and passion. There is a conscious emphasis on
cycles, perception, and, of course, the relationship between mother and
daughter. And this is only what I came up with off the top of my head during
the performance, as it was spinning while I tried to sort out everything that
was happening before me.
In short, it is all just too
much. For every poignant or powerful moment weaved into the playDemeter's discourse
with a mother whose daughter is brutally violated and murdered at her base, for
examplethere are at least three other moments where Haidle disappoints. Too often
he goes for the obvious jokes, whose punch lines you see coming a few lines
ahead. Too often he takes the easy way out and falls back on Demeter's role as
the narrator to fill in gaps (while it is effective sometimes, it is
superfluous for the rest). Too often he fails to evoke true emotion when the
audience is begging for it. And as my own personal aside, I could have really done
without Haidle's weaving pop culture lyricsThe Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses, among
othersinto the play's dialogue. Cheap laughs just don't do it for me, and
unfortunately, this dark comedywhich was neither dark nor comedic enough to
fit into the categoryis chock full of them.
This flawed script aside, the
Huntington presents a marvelous staging
of the production. The ensemble cast shines, and while Melinda Lopez is still
somewhat stiff as Demeter, this can almost be excused, as she stepped into the
role days before the show's opening. Mimi Lieber steals the spotlight as the
overly sensual Celia, among others, and Seth Fisher shines as Giuseppe as well
as a plethora of characters. The triangle depicted between the three characters
in the first act is utterly brilliant, and the chemistry between the actors
vivid and electric. Jeremiah Kissel also stands out in a number of roles, but
my personal favorites are as Demeter's only real companions in both centuries, two
mice, or a mouse and a rat, if you prefer. Kissel does surprising justice to what
could be mundane roles, and is a pleasure to watch onstage.
Nicholas Martin's staging is
interesting and unique, but the real stand out aspect of this production is Ben
Stanton's lighting design. Few realize that lighting design can make or break
almost any show, and in this case, Stanton's
talents leant themselves to the former category. Stanton's
designs are vibrant and fresh; they seem to not only present and mirror the on
stage actions, but also delve into the emotional world Haidle fails to
adequately depict through his characters. You don't have to be a techie to
appreciate the role Stanton's
designs play in telling Demeter's story, or the vast realm of his talents.
In the end, the Huntington's staging of Persephone is almost enough to compensate for the deficiencies in Haidle's script, but the play is still not one worth going well out of your way to see. The die-hard theatre fans may enjoy this one for the technical aspects alone, but for everyone else, it might be best to save Persephone for a rainy day.