There are certain individuals who haunt the Capital Fringe festival (and I’m not talking about the reviewers). Antigone and Medea always seem to make an appearance. And, of course, every character from even the most obscure work of Shakespeare. But, thanks to the new Fringe Curated Series commissioning program, other mythical figures are having their reimagined moment in the spotlight.
As part of this program, Capital Fringe staple Stephen Spotswood takes his inspiration from Greek mythology for the world premiere of Andromeda Breaks. In case it’s been a minute since you picked up a copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Andromeda was a young princess whose mother boasted that she was more beautiful than any sea nymph, angering Poseidon, the god of the sea. As punishment for her mother’s hubris, Poseidon sends a sea monster to ravage Andromeda (sounds legit, right?), who has been stripped chained to a rock as a sacrifice. She is ultimately rescued by Perseus, on his way home from slaying Medusa, helping to give birth to millennia of princess-saved-from-monster stories in the process.
As the playwright notes in the program, “The original story of Andromeda has surprisingly little Andromeda in it.” But in Spotswood’s capable (and feminist) hands, this classic story becomes something new. Rather than a straightforward retelling of the damsel-in-distress myth, Andromeda Breaks is a sly two-hander set in a modern police interrogation room, where Andromeda finally gets to set the record straight.
Our eponymous heroine (Billie Krishawn) has been whisked away from her cousin Mini’s funeral and brought in for questioning by Detective Sergeant Percy (Jeremy Keith Hunter). He was tipped off by an anonymous informant that Andromeda, as the public face of her parents’ nefarious crime family—has some blood on her hands, despite her virgin criminal record.
closes July 22, 2018
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If all of this sounds like a straightforward Law & Order rerun to you, it should be noted that “Mini” is short for Wilhelmina Minos—a minotaur. Detective Sergeant Percy has made a name for himself by taking out nests of gorgons. And in this case, Andromeda has been handcuffed to a table rather than chained to a rock. Spotswood peppers his world with classical references while also firmly rooting it in the present in a rural, economically stagnant American county—narcotics epidemic and all. Andromeda Breaks has its foot in the worlds of both Southern gothic noir and classical mythology, and is full of knowing winks at the audience.
The backbone of the piece is Krishawn’s delightfully beguiling performance. From even before the lights come up, when we hear her singing a myth-infused spiritual, to her final triumphant cackle, Andromeda is finally, for once, the one at the helm of her own story. Hunter’s Percy, the hero of the police force, is a worthy foil, but this is undeniably Andromeda’s moment. While certain elements in each character’s backstory may border on cliché—Percy was a high school football star before an injury kept him from attending college on a scholarship—Krishawn and Hunter’s performances for the most part make them ring true.
Nick Martin’s keen direction keeps things moving at a sprightly pace, and he cleverly finds ways to keep what could come off as static—two people talking in a confined space—becomes dynamic instead. The Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage is a fitting venue for the piece, being somehow both claustrophobic and cavernous, like the center of the labyrinth itself. (It was also, I might add, sub-Arctic, which was perfect for me, but humans with a normal body temperature might want to bring along a sweater.) Jason Aufdem-Brinke’s lighting design and Gordon Nimmo-Smith’s sound design work together harmoniously to transport the audience without us ever actually leaving the confines of the police precinct.
“Sacrifices must be made” is a phrase that’s repeated during Andromeda Breaks, but the play touches on a number of other thorny themes and asks some tough questions. Where’s the line between being used by someone else, and being complicit in their actions because you’re the one benefitting? What kind of choices would you be willing to make when you believe you’re doing something wrong for the right reasons? Just how much do you owe a family who’s willing to sacrifice you for crimes they committed in the first place? Spotswood doesn’t bother with tidy answers, and has clearly had fun with the blank canvas the source material provides. If, as perennial Fringe fave the Bard says, what’s past is prologue, it’s satisfying to have finally arrived at the chapter in which Andromeda gets to use her voice.
Andromeda Breaks by Stephen Spotswood. Directed by Nick Martin. Featuring: Jeremy Hunter and Billie Krishawn. Lighting designer: Jason Aufdem-Brinke. Costume designer: Amy MacDonald. Sound designer: Gordon Nimmo-Smith. Stage manager: Josie Felt. Produced by Capital Fringe. Reviewed by John Bavoso.