Here, let me tell you what I saw on opening night. It won’t spoil it for you, since each rendition of Persephone will tell a different story, with a different artist in control*. So as I give my report, keep in mind – your results will vary.
First, some background. In Greek myth, Persephone was the goddess of the fruits of the ground, assuring the growth of vegetation even before the cultivation of plants. One day her father, Zeus, gave Hades, god of the underworld, permission to take her and make her his own. Hades abducted her, raped her, and confined her to the underworld.
Persephone’s mother, Demeter, searched the world for her. She commanded that vegetation stop flowering, and the world became barren. Zeus, unwilling to deal with these consequences, required that Hades return his victim. But before Hades complied, he tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds. Having eaten food from the underworld, Persephone was required to return to the underworld three months each year. Those three months correspond to winter in our world.
Now, here’s the Persephone I saw in the Bedroom. A woman (Jane Clare Remick) appears, with agonizing slowness, from within a pile of plastic sheeting. Barefoot and underwear-clad, she staggers to a cooler and withdraws a bag of ice chips. Another woman (Eames Armstrong, who is also the director) emerges, carrying pails with flashlights in them. Remick’s character chews her ice cubes and spits them into one of the pails. Armstrong’s character cuts the plastic sheeting and performs other acts of housekeeping. Eventually Armstrong’s character tapes up Remick’s with transparent tape, attaches plastic bags of what appears to be carrots, tosses her in among the plastic sheeting until she is trapped there, and walks off the stage.
Remick’s character thrashes about for a while and collapses, comatose or dead. Armstrong’s character reemerges from offstage, now naked. She, with great effort, pulls Remick’s character out from among the plastic sheeting and stands her on her feet. Then she does more housekeeping while Remick’s character comes back to consciousness. Eventually, Armstrong’s character pulls the transparent tape from the body of Remick’s and opens the plastic bags, strewing the contents on the floor. Remick’s character grabs a garland of flowers and tears it apart, and, using the remainder of the tape, attaches the flowers to the body of Armstrong’s character. Then they both exit.
“I was less interested in investigating ‘authentic’ or primary sources, and more excited to mine associations from people around me,” Remick says in her program notes. “I have no interest in exploring [the] sensationalized assault [made by Hades] in this piece. Rather, we begin in the aftermath – investigating the slow, dull, mundane and enduring nature of trauma and recovery.”
Yeah, I can see that a little, if I squint. Many of us spent our entire college experience sitting on coolers spitting ice chips into pails. And if you know the myth of Persephone you can recognize elements of it: the garland of flowers, the bags of vegetables.
(rating applies to only the performance seen)
Conceived by Eames Armstrong
Details and tickets
And, beyond that: the slow, the dull, and the mundane simply aren’t theatrical. I get, for example, that Remick might be saying something significant when her character tapes flowers to the body of Armstrong’s character. But it takes so damn long for Remick to pull out the line of tape, bite it clean from the roll, place the flower on Armstrong’s body, and then tape it in place. And she does it over and over again. There are some deadly tells about this show: photographers (authorized) clicked incessantly and a large number of audience members came in late (the place was packed). In a good show I would never notice them, but in this production I noticed every one of them. And nobody in the audience, me included, knew when the show was over. It wasn’t until the photographer started clapping – a full minute or more after the actors exited – that we knew we were done.
Joseph Campbell once said that a myth is a public dream, and a dream is a private myth. The story of Persephone is manifestly a myth – a public dream into which the collective consciousness is invited. The Persephone I saw is, by Remick’s own statement, a dream – drawn not from the source but from associations with people around her. We are invited to the door of the dream but, alas, no further.
*In addition to Ms. Remick, the artists who will be interpreting and performing this myth are: Kunj Patel who performed Saturday night, Legba Carrefour on Thursday the 17th, Carolyn Becker on Sunday the 20th, Sebastian Rousseau on Thursday the 24th, and Haley Cutler Sunday the 27th. Not all performances are in the Bedroom; check our Fringe page for times and locations (hit “go” across from Persephone).