Prometheus Bound & Unbound and Picture This | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Prometheus Bound & Unbound and Picture This 

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PROMETHEUS BOUND & UNBOUND, Bailiwick Repertory, and PICTURE THIS, Bailiwick Repertory. For a contemporary audience, Prometheus is a tough nut. Compared to the all-too-human Sisyphus, doomed to pointless, never-ending toil, or the pathetic but familiar Orpheus, robbed of love because he has no faith, Prometheus is unapproachable, an oddity. There the Titan sits, chained to a cliff for eternity while an eagle feasts on his liver, all because he gave fire to mankind. Though classical scholar Carl Kerenyi calls him the "archetypal image of human existence" and devotes an entire book to arguing that point, the rest of us might ask what those ancient Greeks were smoking.

Now Bailiwick offers two ambitious attempts to rejuvenate the myth in "Prometheus 2000." In Prometheus Bound & Unbound Edward Mast makes a largely unsuccessful attempt, adding a bit of vernacular language to Aeschylus's static, arcane Prometheus Bound, then stitching his version to a gutted rendition of Shelley's unstageable Prometheus Unbound. The two acts are stylistically and theologically inconsistent, and both of them presume a deep familiarity with the myth and offer few insights into its resonance for modern audiences. You don't need to know Aeschylus, however, to admire Cecilie D. Keenan's lively staging of Prometheus Bound, with its wry collisions of Mad Max and Velvet Goldmine. But if you don't know Prometheus Unbound, you may well wonder what on earth anyone is talking about in the second act (but then you might have felt the same reading Shelley).

In Picture This Landon Coleman makes Prometheus his own to much better effect. Here the fire bringer is a famous photojournalist whose chance shot of a woman with her hair ablaze has brought him a Pulitzer. Shackled to his hotel bed by a mysterious woman he can't recall picking up, he comes to realize that his fame is a kind of eternal damnation.

The premise is intriguing, but Coleman's haphazard treatment leaves enormous gaps in logic and credibility. Patrizia Acerra's rather perfunctory direction doesn't do much to smooth things over. And while the play's Twilight Zone ending resolves many of the inconsistencies, Coleman's resolution comes too late: he's already lost his audience.

--Justin Hayford

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