Clusters of cloudy mirrors crowd the exposed-brick walls of The Club at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, which The Nerve Tank has transformed into Hades' euro-trashy underworld for their latest production, The Maiden. Although it is an experimental reboot of the Persephone myth, The Maiden does not narrate this classic mythological tale in a traditional sense. Rather, Nerve Tank has abstracted the myth's latent poetry, its signature characters, and the motif of lightness and darkness and remixed these elements into a sexy multimedia spectacle. The result is a visually and aurally stimulating experience supported by the infrastructure of a familiar myth. While the audiovisual design is most certainly resplendent, The Maiden is not hollow; Chance D. Muehleck's script concept and Melanie S. Armer's choreography bring up basic questions around the potential of performance and the politics of gender and power, providing just enough thematic weight to give the production some (albeit abstract) meaning.
Grasping a mason jar of blood-red wine in his slender fingers, a dark and dazzling Hades (Mark William Lindberg) surveys the audience from his perch atop an golden tricycle-cum-chariot. Designed by Greg Henderson and Melanie S. Armer, this curious and towering contraption nods to Victorian-era "penny-farthing" bicycles, with their huge front wheels and intricate steering mechanisms. Pedaling and steering his chariot contraption with intimidating control and grace, Lindberg floats past the audience towards a bound and blindfolded Persephone (Robin Kurtz), who awaits his approach in obscurity. The whole scene is teeming with sexuality and underscored by an indulgent score expertly written by the production's lead Chorus member, Admiral Grey. Like Grey, the other two members of the chorus -- James "Face" Yu and Brandt Adams -- are wholly committed to their choreography. Instead of being "too-cool," the intense dedication and well-trained movements of the chorus makes their presence an element of power, rather than a silly device.
While the performances were fantastic, major kudos for this dark gem of a production should also go to its designers. Apparently working closely in collaboration, all design elements synthesized beautifully. Miodrag Guberinic's costumes, notably Hades' sumptuous leather cloak and bullet-studded patent leather hat and Demeter's full-body black veil, looked delightful on the performers' bodies. Solomon Weisbard's lighting was on cue, changing tones just in time to maintain the viewer's interest.
Equal parts performance art, dance, and theatre, this multimedia production is a wild bricolage of found text, poetry and visual splendor. While for some of us it might seem a bit gratuitous in its reliance on the visual, this production is nonetheless "design porn" at its very best. For audience members seeking a play-by-play narration of the Persephone myth, this show will probably disappoint with its non-narrative conceit. For the more adventurous viewers -- those willing to be consumed by the experience of a performance and those unafraid to not "get it" -- The Maiden is a one-hour downtown adventure worth taking.
The Nerve Tank’s The Maiden runs until April. 13 at The Club at La MaMa E.T.C. (74A East 4th Street). Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m. and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 and $13 students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.lamama.org, calling 212-475-7710, or visiting the La MaMa box office.