Last year, the Great Jones Repertory Company presented Seven, seven classic plays in repertory, from a restaging of Andre Serban's 1972 Medea to the world premiere of Ellen Stewart's Antigone. Individually, the pieces succeeded to varying degrees, but taken as a whole, they made a fascinating and beautiful cycle, the kind rarely seen on contemporary stages. Stewart's new staging of Perseus with the Great Jones company very much belongs to this series, serving as a sort of "prequel" to last year's events. (Perseus is the great-grandfather of Clytemnestra, who, as the wife of Agamemnon, is at the center of most of the Seven stories.) Perseus is also clearly related to the company's previous works in its triumphs and tribulations: at moments visually spectacular while at others plodding and uninteresting.
The character of Perseus has always been overshadowed by his greatest accomplishment: slaying the snake-haired Medusa by cutting off her head. Here the audience is given the full story. Perseus is fated to kill his grandfather, King Acrisius. So the king, upon the birth of his grandson (fathered by Zeus, of course), sends him and his mother, Danae, out to sea in a locked chest.
Perseus grows up and slays Medusa as a gift of thanks to King Polydectes for not wedding Danae, a union he had not approved of. Perseus also slays a sea monster, saving the life of Andromeda, the princess of Ethiopia, and the two are wed. As in all Greek mythology, none of these stories occur without angry gods, rivalries, or battles.
The music is what shines the most in this production. Composed by Elizabeth Swados and Michael Sirotta, along with Heather Pauuwe, Yukio Tsuji, and Carlos Valdez, it provides a magnificent, sweeping soundtrack that greatly augments (and, at times, inadvertently overwhelms) the action onstage. The musicians are a pleasure to both listen to and watch.
And no discussion of the piece would be complete without mentioning, with complete awe, the talents of the Storyteller, played by Benjamin Marcantoni. His voice is at once beautiful and frightening, adeptly modulating from a solid tenor to an uncanny and sublime soprano in the same phrase.
Stewart wrote the text, adapting it from and including excerpts by Ovid, Hesiod, Apollodorus, and Pindar. Her staging, which includes many collaborative efforts by much of the cast, crew, and other artists, has characteristically amazing visual moments