Downstage Performance Society
Written by George Ryga
Directed by Anton deGroot
Runs until January 21
Dancers Studio West
It isnt surprising that a playwright who once called himself an "artist in resistance" would choose the original rebel, Prometheus, as a vehicle for a play. In stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man, the titan of Greek mythology symbolically provided humanity with the creative energy and self-determination that raised it above the level of simple animals and he suffered perpetual agony as his punishment.
Best known for The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, Canadian playwright George Rygas Prometheus Bound reinterprets Aeschyluss classical play about the myth, treating it as an explicit political and ideological struggle between Prometheus (Jeremy Park) and the unseen First Minister. Chained in subterranean caves for treason, Prometheus receives a series of visitations, from the allegorical Worker (Aretha Moller-Roth) and Farmer (Matt Smith) to the ruling immortals like Power (Troy Greenwood) and Force (Chelsea Keenan), in a reflection on the nature of resistance and its enduring power.
"One of the most difficult things about any Prometheus story is that your lead character cant move," says director Anton deGroot wryly. DeGroot is helming Downstage Performance Societys staging of the play, which marks its world première. Although Ryga wrote it in the early 1980s, it has remained unproduced until now.
In fact, while The Ecstasy of Rita Joe made Ryga an internationally recognized playwright, many of his subsequent works, although published in anthologies like George Ryga: The Other Plays, have yet to be produced. DeGroot sees that as a natural opportunity for semi-professional companies such as Downstage that are seeking to find their niche in the local theatre scene.
"Bigger companies wouldnt take risks on plays like these and smaller companies, because we have less to lose, can," says deGroot. "If it doesnt go well, then we can recover a lot easier than if we had invested a huge amount of money into it. And if it goes well, more the better."
The risk of producing a play with an overt social agenda is certainly one reason Rygas Prometheus Bound has never made it to the stage. DeGroot concedes that Rygas work is often slowed by its message and the challenges of adapting the story from its original Greek form. Monologues, choruses and the cumbersome esthetic of ancient theatre, coupled with a political viewpoint, could easily render the production a didactic bore. But with such touches as immortals performing in white face, Hermes costumed as a bike courier and the use of stylized movement, deGroot hopes to add a sheen of theatricality to Rygas drama.
"I think if it was done straight, it would be very difficult to approach and it would just be dull, because it has the potential on first read to be dull," he admits. "I think just having grown up in the time I have and seeing the work Ive seen, I can see past it and see a different style to make it more important. There are not necessarily dance numbers in (this production), but its just a very stylistic approach to the movement, and thats what really allowed the language to work."
Thankfully, Rygas play is more than simple preaching. His most enduring work, after all, is an indictment of both white and First Nations communities treatment of their own people and has continued to be one of the most iconic international examples of Canadian theatre. True to his belief in humanitys imperative to choose, Rygas Prometheus Bound is no socialist sermon, but asks its audience to make their own judgment instead.
"It encourages you to make your own decisions and I think thats important, because sometimes being too forceful causes you to lose your effect," says deGroot. "If someone is onstage screaming for a long time, all you see is screaming, and if youre being told Do this, do this again and again, it just becomes death."