Perseus Bayou is making a welcome return to the DC area after an eight year absence. Now an entirely new generation of children can enjoy the charms of this creative family musical playing at Imagination Stage.
The oddly compelling title is the result of adapting the Greek Perseus myth to post-Civil War Cajun country. To those unfamiliar with the myth, the god Zeus visits the beautiful Danae in the form of a golden shower and the result is baby Perseus. Danae’s father, King Acrisius, then puts them out to sea and near certain death because it was foretold he would be killed by his son. Fortunately they are rescued and taken in by a kindly fisherman (Doucet in this version).
Alas, Danae (Lauren Shmalo) and Perseus (Tyler Herman) have gone from the frying pan into the fire. The ruler of this land, Polydectes, covets Danae and stages a fake wedding where he shames Perseus (now a boastful young man) for being the only guest without a gift. When Perseus promises to bring anything the king wants, he asks for the head of the dreaded Medusa, whose can turn to stone anyone who looks at her. Thus Perseus is off on his quest.
Creators Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox’s decision to place the myth in Louisiana swamp country is an inspired choice. The atmosphere is spooky and magical, the kind of place where the appearance of Greek gods Athena (Shaunté Tabb) and Hermes (Matthew Schleigh) or a giant gator seems entirely plausible.
Moreover, the river is a great setting for both a coming of age journey and mythic exploits. Among the stalwart hero’s discoveries are a plucky young tomboy named Andromeda (Cassie Platt). She despises her full name, preferring Andy, and craves adventure more than marriage.
The story maintains a rollicking sense of adventure aided by delightful Cajun-influenced tunes and the sure-handed direction of Mary Hall Surface (who won a Helen Hayes Award for her direction of the original production). Between the dialogue and the song lyrics, the story is surprisingly easy for even young audiences (6+) to follow.
Even by the lofty standards of Imagination Stage, the staging is clever. The story is aided by puppet animals, a giant gator, and even festooned sticks that conjure up the Spanish moss of the swamp. Dan Covey’s lighting design is not only highly functional, but effectively uses the shadows to set effective moods.
While the entire cast is pleasing, certain actors get into the spirit of the story especially well. Shaunté Tabb has the stage presence of a goddess as Athena, Cassie Platt makes a spirited heroine, and Ricardo Frederick Evans has the most fun with his Cajun heritage. On the other side of the goodness scale, Kristen Jeppersen is fun both as Andromeda’s vain mother Cassie and the Medusa, and Evan Casey makes a compelling villain in the dual roles of Acrisius and Polydectes.
Will you have a good time at Perseus Bayou? To borrow the famous catchphrase of the late Cajun cook and humorist Justin Wilson, “I gar-on-tee!“.
Book by Mary Hall Surface
Lyrics by Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox
Music Composed by David Maddox
Directed by Mary Hall Surface
Produced by Imagination Stage
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 1 hr 30 min; one intermission