An intriguing mythical adventure featuring puppets and actors runs just this weekend at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination. Felicia Cooper, director and puppet artist, conceived this community project to introduce new audiences to her craft through workshops in six company spaces and three performances, continuing Friday and Saturday.
Aeschylus’s ancient tale centers on the stand Prometheus takes for what he believes is right. He’s shared the gift of fire with humans, depicted in a prologue by the cast of five.
Cooper says in her program note: “In this cultural climate of upheaval and rapid redevelopment, we must be willing to step outside of our station and thoughtfully examine our world.” Sitting in gentrifying Garfield less than two weeks from the next presidential election, parallels to our contemporary condition were clearly drawn in this story.
Tal Kroser is the steadfast Prometheus, punished by the angry god Zeus and chained on a rocky cliff overhang. Kroser is on stage thereafter for the 90-minute piece, immovable in his physical and motivational position. His fate is sealed and the tragic wheel turns through the words of Marianne McDonald’s adaptation of this classic. Kroser applies his lovely vocal talent in addition to his stamina as the chained protagonist. (It will be nice to catch him in other less confined roles).
Rebecca Johnson is Chorus, providing Prometheus company in his exile. She’s an observer who confirms, again, what we all know: this will not end well.
The three actor-puppeteers, then are: Adrianne Knapp as Kratos and Io, Sarah Cox-Nakano as Hephaestus, Hippocamp, and Hermes; and Ellen Connally is Bia and Oceanus. The entire cast has its hands full with hefty text, puppets, and (in the case of Kroser) chains. Movement, voice and puppetry converge in this challenging short work and the company handles it all well. Other properties, headpieces, and makeup are thoughtfully applied to support the storytelling.
Cooper’s puppets are both creature-like and human-like, a wonderful variety of beings that come and go from the room. Two are large pointy-beaked creatures, one a paunchy little old man, another a nasty thing with round Mason jar rings for eyes. All the puppets demonstrate Cooper’s range and imagination with rods, strings, and actor engagement as tools for their movement and characterization. Look for more from Cooper whose creative journey is happily foreshadowed with Prometheus Bound.
Bring the action full circle, those who receive fire at the opening, pull down down the drapery depicting the cliff at the tragic ending.
I attended the sensory-friendly opening night, in which the lights were up and loud vocal or music effects were minimized, more like a final rehearsal. A guitarist (Tim Barr, who also played ukulele) and percussionist (Kyle Murphy) provided constant underscoring that added nicely to the simple production. The acoustic guitar becomes electric for the remaining performance and Cooper explained that the actors’ volume and declamations also vary for the regular performances, in which lighting by Sarah Cox-Nakano will bring more theatricality.
The portable and simple approach of Thursday night makes this a production that may introduce audiences of all ages to this legend. Perhaps a more concise version of this piece could play well for school audiences as an introduction to both the classics and puppetry. This work certainly has some “legs” (or rods or hands or strings?) for some more mileage as a repertory piece.
Cooper’s project, supported by a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant, was informed by six workshops in Braddock, the Hill District, Northside, and Wilkinsburg.
Bring your imagination to Prometheus Bound, running Friday and Saturday only at 8 pm in the large back gallery room of the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, Garfield.
Audiences can enjoy Ed Parrish, Jr.’s likewise intriguing cast iron wall sculpture. His “Rust Belt Blondes” are an apt complement to the rocky setting of Cooper’s production. Suggested admission is $10-15 and donations are accepted.
Photos courtesy of Reed Bonnett