- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

Great Zeus! Imagination Stage and playwright Kevin Kling have taken on the herculean task of adapting Greek myths to a young, modern audience.

The comedy “Perfectly Persephone: Little Greek Myth” appeals to our party-loving, dionysian side, yet there are more esoteric, apollonian aspects in the play’s treatment of the burden of perfectionism and the importance of finding your individual gift.

That is precisely Persephone’s (Suzanne Richard) dilemma. The daughter of Demeter (Stephanie Burden) and Zeus (Rob McQuay), Persephone is a budding immortal, but she does not yet know what makes her a goddess.

Her best friend, Artemis (Mildred Langford), shoots arrows farther than anyone and loves the hunt and animals, while her pal Apollo (Linden Tailor) uses his chariot to pull the sun across the sky. Her chum Hermes (John Peter Illarramendi) is fleet of foot; Aphrodite’s (Kimberly Parker Green) beauty is an inspiration to all; and her mother controls the weather through her emotions.

What is Persephone’s talent? According to her mother, Persephone is meant to be perfect, as in perfectly obedient and perfectly ladylike. For a while, she revels in her faultlessness, although her friends say she can be a bit cloying, and, truth be told, Persephone is beginning to find the whole perfectionist thing rather annoying. She wants to take chances and make mistakes, just like everyone else.

Her journey leads her to the underworld, which she finds haunting and sad but oddly ingratiating once you get past the darkness. She befriends Cerberus (Peter Wylie), the three-headed dog guarding the gates of the underworld; Hephaestus (Mr. Wylie again), the god of fire and crafts; and eventually, Hades (Mr. McQuay) himself. It is in the underworld that Persephone finds her purpose. Her choice to spend part of the year in Hades means that Demeter must let go of her daughter. It’s also how Greek mythology explains how the seasons came to be.

Director Janet Stanford emphasizes the irreverent, joyous moments in Mr. Kling’s play. Although Hades is a daunting place, Miss Stanford makes it scary-friendly through the use of music, masks, dreamlike dance, and the tossing in of an offhand remark here and there. Milagros Ponce de Leon’s set uses the designs you might find on an amphora, and choreographer Patty Krauss uses stylized movement in the dances to make the production look as if it was sprung from a frieze.

Mythology could seem, well, Greek, to a young audience, but the combination of Mr. Kling’s gently comedic writing and Miss Stanford’s direction draws out the fun. Miss Stanford playfully conveys the gods’ size and status by having mortals portrayed by marionettes, and there is a delicious throwaway skit that whips us through the entire Trojan War in less than a minute using two puppets, a wooden horse and a toy chest.

A play about perfectionism and gods might lend itself to actors who have no need for extreme makeovers, but Imagination Stage trumps our expectations with a cast made up of disabled actors and those with conventional abilities.

The effervescent and indeed perfect Miss Richard is of small stature and uses crutches for mobility, and her assistive devices are beautifully integrated into the choreography and action. As Zeus, Mr. McQuay tools around majestically on a hand-operated recumbent bike, reserving his wheelchair for the role of Hades.

The traditionally mobile actors get in on the act, with Mr. Tailor’s Apollo seeming to float on air on his scooter, “Chariot.” Mr. Wylie resembles the god Proteus in his turns as Cerberus — giving each pooch a distinct voice and personality — and the divinely flawed Hephaestus, a talented craftsman who believes he is ugly and, therefore, unlovable. Miss Burden personifies maternal doting — and smothering — as the mercurial Demeter, and Miss Langford gives us an Artemis who is both athletic and untamed.

With “Perfectly Persephone,” the Greek myths spring to life with an ambrosial quickness and lightness.

***1/2

WHAT: “Perfectly Persephone: Little Greek Myth” by Kevin Kling

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 3:30 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

Sundays. Through May 29.

TICKETS: $10 to $15

PHONE: 301/280-1660

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