At: City Lit Theater Company, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: $32; 773-293-3682; CityLit.org . Runs through: June 10
With a chorus of waterdrops, a girl who's a cow and appearances by Zeus and Hermes, Aeschylus' play Prometheus Bound is considerably more fantastical than most surviving Greek tragedies. Its cast might suit a comedy by Aristophanes, but Prometheus Bound is a solemn play and a seminal literary work of Western Civilization.
"Do not think that to be stubborn is to be wise," the chained Prometheus is cautioned, a warning that remains a litmus test of the difference between wise leadership ( a frequent topic of Greek drama ) and the mere exercise of power. Aeschylus ( 525-455BCE ) was Robert Kennedy's favorite poet, while the current Prez probably can't even pronounce his name correctly.
Prometheus, in Greek pagan mythology, is somewhat as the serpent is to Christianity, the purveyor of knowledge to humanity ( specifically of the arts, sciences and fire ); but whereas the serpent intended the fall of Mankind, Prometheus was intent on Mankind's rise. However, Zeus and the Olympian gods wished to destroy humanity, so they relegate Prometheus to eternal punishment, forever chained to a rock with a stake through his chest. While so bound he is visited by Io, a virgin whom Zeus seduces and then transforms into a heifer which is stung to madness by a gadfly.
Greek audiences would have known all this going in. The point, then, isn't the story but the dialogue between Prometheus and others on the tensions between the gods and humanity, and whether Zeus is just or unjust. Surely Io's punishment is undeserved, but Prometheus is a trickster and certainly arrogant. Perhaps he shares responsibility for his plight.
This world premiere translation by Nicholas Rudall is the work of a master artist. It preserves the compact structure of Greek tragedy ( running just 85 minutes ) and the directness of language for which Aeschylus is known, yet it conveys the complexities of thought. The choral portions ( the water drops ) are sung ( as they would have been 2400 years ago ) to an ethereal original score by Kingsley Day. Except for Prometheus ( Mark Pracht ) and Io ( Kat Evans ) all other characters are represented by rod, doll or abstract puppets ( created by Vonorthal Puppets ), voiced from the sidelines by the female chorus and the vocally versatile and dynamic Charles Schoenherr.
City Lit Artistic Director Terry McCabe staged the work and co-conceived it with Rudall. Their puppet concept does much to overcome the natural inertia of a play in which the hero cannot move. Still, the staging is somewhat static with abstract waterdrop puppets replacing the dance/movement of the chorus. They are interesting objects to be sure, but limited in what they can convey physically. Even so, this Prometheus Bounda rarely seen workis lucid, clear and well worth seeing.