- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

My, how the mighty have fallen in the "Prometheus" being staged at Studio Theatre.

Prometheus (William M. Hulings) is a bellowing whiner, a fillibuster of a guy who cannot for the life of him figure out why Zeus has chained him to a rock for eternity, not to mention understanding why an eagle swoops down every day to pick at his liver. (Hint: The god Prometheus stole fire from the gods and bestowed it on humankind.)

The god Power (Timmy Ray James) has been reduced to an oily tycoon-lawyer, something along the lines of the lizardlike Roy Cohn character from "Angels in America." His sidekick, Violence (Maurice Allain), is nothing but a street thug.

The god of the Ocean (Leo Erickson) is an amiable, aphorism-spouting chap, sort of like Larry King on stilts.

As for Zeus (Ted Van Griethuysen), don't ask. He still possesses a commanding and soothingly paternal voice, but the king of the heavens shambles around in a tattered overcoat with his chest bare. "Nobody believes in Zeus anymore," he muses, seeming more philosophical than vexed about the matter.

That's the state of Mount Olympus in Studio's production of Aeschylus' towering Greek tragedy, which is reduced to a bunch of malcontents in this adaptation by Sophy Burnham. Studio artistic chief Joy Zinoman guides the production.

Mrs. Burnham, a local resident, best-selling author and founding member of Studio, first gained notice in the late 1980s and the 1990s as "the angel lady," the New Age messenger who informed us that angels not only walked among us, but intervened and guided us from time to time. If anybody ever gave you an "angel on my shoulder" pin or angel greeting cards, you probably have Mrs. Burnham to thank. Studio received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the production.

Working from Edith Hamilton's translation of "Prometheus Bound," Mrs. Burnham has given us a world all too human. Since the Prometheus trilogy only exists in fragments, Mrs. Burnham and Mrs. Zinoman have crafted a second act, "Prometheus Released," that ponders the "what if" showdown between Prometheus and Zeus when the former is finally released from the rock as one of the 12 labors of Herkales (Peter Cassidy).

The first act has loads of lamenting, but little insight. Prometheus, widely touted as the most clever and knowledgeable of the gods, behaves like a little boy told to stand in the corner. With much gnashing of teeth and rattling of chains as he curses the heavens for his fate, he becomes a rebel without a pause.

A Greek chorus, the Daughters of Ocean, listens to his kvetching and moves in smooth columns and performs intriguing tonal music by Deborah Wicks LaPuma. At first, the controlled, synchronized movements and harmony of the chorus are glorious to watch, but after a while the chorus becomes mechanical and maddeningly repetitive.

The appearance of Io (Sarah Marshall) adds a touch of liveliness. In case you are not up on your Greek mythology, Io was a maiden who refused Zeus' advances, so she is turned into a cow eternally plagued by a gadfly. Miss Marshall conveys beautifully the frenzied anguish of someone tormented beyond reason.

Otherwise, "Prometheus" plods along, and doesn't get any better in the second act, when Prometheus is freed and demands an audience with the almighty Zeus. You expect fireworks, or a lacerating discussion at the very least between god and demigod on the nature of suffering and how a divine creature could allow his creations to be in such pain.

Instead, we have a chat that could take place on any park bench in America, as Prometheus continues to be a truculent adolescent and Zeus the patient placater. When Prometheus asks "why?" Zeus answers with a bunch of touchy-feely mumbo jumbo about human beings ruining Mother Earth with nukes, A-bombs, rape, unwanted pregnancy, war and air pollution. To say the play is preachy would do a grave disservice to persons of the cloth.

Where are the characters larger than life and the hubris that is so magnified and magnificent in the gods and the immortals? Where is the thunderous language that resounds across the ages, language so stark and ideal we could have imagined it once touched by the divine spark?

Tragically, none of this is evident in "Prometheus." We are left with only ashes and echoes, both painful to endure.


**

WHAT: "Prometheus," adapted by Sophy Burnham

WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1333 P St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 7 p.m. Sundays, through April 28

TICKETS: $19.50 to $43.50

PHONE: 202/332-3300

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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