Low-budget makes for a clever, creative production of ‘Persephone’
Stone Cottage Theatre,
15650 Addison Road.
Through April 10. $18â€“$21.
The magic of the Greek gods is at play in MBS Productions’ latest offering, Persephone, because director Mark-Brian Sonna has created a masterpiece with low budget sensibilities. He takes the audience into the realm of the underworld with nothing more than pieces of fabric and body makeup. But it’s the writing that transports them out of the theater and into Persephone’s world of troubles.
With a black curtained backdrop, beautifully colored swaths of fabric as togas, rivers and death’s tools of transport, Sonna’s minimalism is wonderfully effective in his tale of Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, who is kidnapped by Hades and forced to become his wife, the queen of the underworld. He gives the script the same kind of attention, trimming it of any fat to move the story along quickly.
David Swanner and Marilyn Setu play the mismatched couple with clear visions of their characters. Swanner is deliciously lecherous but taps into Hades’ inner loneliness. Setu gives Persephone layers of complexity. Her sense of entitlement is bratty like Paris Hilton but her loss of innocence as she meanders the dark realm for an escape has made her into a heartless soul. Setu’s eyes transform from wide-eyed wonder to a diabolical determination.
The cast creates a nice balance among each other but the leads here are the strongest of the bunch. The backside nudity of Nathan Pennington’s Hermes offers a titillating aspect that makes it hard to concentrate on the dialogue. His buff god bod is clothed with a sash barely covering his nether regions. But Hades never takes us down there.
Persephone is a triumphant gem. Clocking in at just under two hours, Sonna has packaged a Greek tale that will leave an impression for days.
Beauty is more than skin deep
Neil LaBute never met a button he didn’t want to push, especially when it comes to relationships. His trilogy of so-called Beauty Plays — The Shape of Things, Fat Pig and his most recent, Reasons to be Pretty — seem designed to make audiences squirm, especially when you sit next to a woman. It’s as if his work isn’t finished inside the theater; the real drama is meant to take place in the car ride home.
The Dallas Theater Center seems to be cozying into its new downtown home by giving an urban edginess to its season. (The plays are performed in repertory, with the same six actors sharing all 12 characters across three plays.) The first two of the plays, which have opened and play through May, are stinging little one-acts in the intimate black box studio, which only exaggerates the discomfort.
The better of the two is Fat Pig, both as a play and as a production. First, as a play: Shape, in which a schlubby student (Steven Walters) remakes himself to impress his new girlfriend (Abbey Siegworth), is gimmicky, with a twist that depends on basic misogyny, though it concerns itself more deeply with ideas about art and truth.
Pig, by contrast, is almost too real, with Regan Adair both detestable and heartbreaking as a man who falls in love with a large woman but who cannot get beyond the judgmental stares and hateful barbs of his co-workers. The characters seem more real, even as many of them are endlessly infuriating — the man’s ex-girlfriend is a walking Freudian justification for why some men are gay.
(Infuriation, though, is essential to Shape as well — if you’re not red-faced, you’re not paying attention.)
The direction and pacing of Pig are also superior, with Adair and Vela outstanding in the small, precisely-observed details of their courtship. Both plays make you angry, but Fat Pig does something more: It makes you sad.
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Fat Pig and The Shape of Things run through May 9. (Reasons to be Pretty opens April 9 and plays through May 23.) DallasTheaterCenter.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 26, 2010.