Kristen LePine’s new play Leto Legend offers a feminine perspective on the male-dominated world of comic books and the heroes that populate them. With an emphasis on the comic, the play presents high stakes situations, a formidable foe, action, and a heightened world – all satisfying elements that work effectively throughout the 90 minute play.
Instead of a rippled, stoic male hero in a snazzy leotard or sporting a utility belt, LePine places the powerful Leto front and center. Dipping back into Greek mythology, the title character is based on a Titan goddess who was a favorite lover of Zeus and a rival of his more famous wife Hera. Figuring prominently in the mythology and in LePine’s play, Leto was also known as the mother of the twin gods Artemis and Apollo, a fact not lost on the bitter and vindictive Hera. Picking up cues from the Greeks, LePine’s exiled Leto attempts to return from her self-imposed exile and finds heady resistance from Hera and her entourage.
Leto Legend taps into the zeitgeist of comic book culture by focusing on Charlie, the creator, writer and primary artist for the Leto comic book. Refreshingly, Charlie is a working, single mom, trying to juggle the job of parent to a teenager with the demands of her work, an up-to-the minute and universal theme if there ever was one.
LePine appealingly morphs Charlie’s struggles as a creative artist and harried mother with the epic battle Leto faces in the fictional comic world. Charlie faces a fickle fan-base upset at her artistic choices; Leto deals with the corrupt women of Lycia who fall under the sway of Hera. Leto loses her mighty powers since giving birth to twins while Charlie is in danger of losing control of her creation, and must weigh the cost of her professional obligations and being a mother to her daughter Diana.
The transitions between the comic world and Charlie’s reality ebb and blend effectively, thanks to the sharp direction by Helen Pafumi and her design team Robbie Hayes (scenery), Johnathan Alexander (lighting), and Patrick Lord (projections). The action moves swiftly on the multi-leveled, unit set, where kaleidoscopic projections enhance the staging with elements of danger.
LePine intersperses traditional dialogue scenes with moments of phone conversations, video-conferences, and texts to propel the story or comment on the action. This is by no means an original theatrical device, but LePine makes it work just about the entire time. (More on that “just about” later.)
Valerie Fenton takes on the conflicted Charlie and her creation Leto in a commanding performance. She seamlessly glides between the Titan Leto, facing untold dangers and the cries of her infant sons, and the comic book artist who can barely find time to catch her daughter’s lacrosse game. Fenton makes all of Charlie/Leto’s issues seem real, including writer’s block, fear of collaboration, and skating on the edge of a breakdown. Since the play slants towards comedy in many cases, Fenton handles herself like the brainy, comic Lucille Ball, which is a plus.
Fenton’s all female supporting cast also gets the job done, moving from Greek chorus (with some lovely singing) to the individuals who figure in Charlie and Leto’s melded adventures. Katie Nigsch plays Charlie’s grounded sister Alex who comes to her rescue one too many times. Katie Jeffries is a hoot as the tween daughter Diana complete with huffs, eye-rolls and tantrums that will be familiar to most parents. Lolita Marie is the ball-busting boss Meredith who pushes Charlie for more a more commercial version of Leto so TV executives will bite and turn Leto in to a lucrative franchise.
July 10 – August 2
The Hub Theatre at
John Swayze Theatre
9431 Silver King Court
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Slipping between the dual roles of comic book blogger Nike Jones and the powerful goddess Hera, Carolyn Kashner makes a strong impression as thorns in both Charlie and Leto’s side. Audrey Bertaux inhabits Charlie’s worst nightmare: Maia. A rabid fan of the Leto comics, Maia is hired to work on the beloved comic with the reluctant creator. Bertaux skates that fine line between comic relief and worthy adversary as Maia slowly takes over Leto from Charlie – or so she thinks.
Although Charlie’s struggles teeter between her own self-doubt and her rivalry with the upstart Maia, there is still room for some epic action in Leto’s imaginary world. Fight director Cliff Williams works with the dynamic but small ensemble to create a fitting and entertaining battle sequence.
As I think this review can attest, there is plenty to recommend the Hub Theatre’s production of Leto Legend. As a fan of super heroes (and reformed comic book collector), I certainly appreciated LePine’s script and the production lead by Pafumi. It is engaging and well-performed.
But there is one small hitch that I feel I must mention, and it may just be my knee-jerk reaction. The only misstep came towards the end when Charlie finally makes a critical decision about her creative baby, Leto. This scene uses the conceit already introduced early in the play: projections show tweets, texts, blog posts while the appropriate characters speak the lines, i.e. “Hashtag Leto Legend” and other such social media short hand. Using this type of exchange as a major plot device just seemed gimmicky to me. It’s probably my age. (I don’t get what all the hubbub is about Lena Dunham and HBO’s “Girls” either, go figure.)
But the use of twitter-like exchanges was certainly not a deal breaker to my overall enjoyment of Leto Legend, a new play with strong central roles for female characters, and an entertaining mix of reality and fantasy.
Leto Legend by Kristen LePine . Directed by Helen Pafumi . Featuring Valerie Fenton, Lolita Clayton, Katie Nigsch, Katie Jeffries, Audrey Bertaux, and Carolyn Kashner . Scenic Design: Robbie Hayes . Sound Design and Composition: Matthew Nielson . Lighting Design: Johnathan Alexander . Costume Design: Deb Sivigny . Props Design: Suzanne Maloney , Fight Director: Cliff Williams . Projection Design: Patrick Lord . Stage Manager: Keta Newborn . Produced by The Hub Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.