Chicago Theater Review: PROMETHEUS BOUND (City Lit at Edgewater Presbyterian Church)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 13, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


Imagination sometimes seems abstract. It’s a term you can’t always savor — until you see it blossom before you. It’s in full force in City Lit’s revival of Prometheus Bound, the surviving drama from Aeschylus’s trilogy dating back to the fifth century BC. A labor of love spanning 20 years, this eye-popping, enthrallingly eloquent version employs only two actors, a female chorus of seven, and a quintet of puppeteers manipulating their hand and rod creations.

Crucially, Terry McCabe’s gorgeous staging is driven by a bold new translation by a Chicago theater legend, Nicholas Rudall, founder of Court Theatre. (The fact that Aeschylus may not have written Prometheus Bound doesn’t detract in the least from the dramatic impact of this hymn to hope. It exists in its own right.)

For the ancient Greeks, Prometheus was the prime benefactor of humankind. The Titan gave us fire and taught us truth and the ways to profit from the earth. (The gift of fire is the Greek equivalent of the knowledge of good and evil conferred by the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden — and it too brings its own punishment.)

Alas, the immortal Prometheus also ended up on the wrong side when Zeus destroyed the Titans. For that transgression and for thwarting Zeus’s desire to replace the human species with a better one, Prometheus is condemned to be chained and fastened with a spike to a mountain top. Every day an eagle shows up to rip out his liver. (Gratuitously persecuted, he is Sisyphus without the stone or Tantalus without grapes.) Greek audiences would have known that Prometheus would one day save Zeus’s throne and be freed by Hercules from his unearned privation.

Depicting the hero’s chastisement and not his redemption, Prometheus Bound is a magnificent pageant in which the abandoned hero is visited by gods (who serve as Zeus’s enforcers), sea nymphs, the taunting messenger of the gods Hermes, and, most importantly, Io: A virgin who, rejecting Zeus, was transformed into a cow, she has been forced to wander the earth tortured by gadflies and the guard giant Argus.

Nailed to Jeremy Hollis’s scaffolding like Jesus to the cross, Mark Pracht’s nobly defiant Prometheus receives his first tortures from giant figurines depicting Power, Brute Force, and the iron-forging god Hephaestus from whom Prometheus stole fire. Performing the choruses, beautifully melodic offerings by Chicago composer Kingsley Day, are seven women depicting the 3,000 daughters of Oceanus. Riding a winged sea creature called a hippocampus, a life-sized puppet of Oceanus represents the circular river that flows around the earth.

Most moving is doomed Io (Kat Evans), whose wanderings Prometheus will prophesy. She epitomizes the conflict between force and justice that our hero and his author confront throughout the action. (To some extent, Zeus, usually considered an exemplary deity, is here conflated with Hippias, a tyrant who the Athenians had expelled in 510 BCE.)

The non-humans, dazzling creations by Vonorthal Puppets, are perfectly pictured, three-dimensional pop-up illustrations testifying to a theatrical animation to rival Pixar or Disney. The result is an engaging blast from the past, a demi-god’s still-thrilling declaration of independence, speaking truth to power. This legend becomes us all.

photos by Steve Graue

Prometheus Bound
City Lit
Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Ave.
ends on June 10, 2018
for tickets, call 773.293.3682 or visit City Lit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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