Prometheus Bound is not your typical Getty Villa production.
A massive steel wheel will serve as the central set piece for the avant-garde version of the ancient Greek classic tragedy. Portraying the tortured Prometheus, Ron Cephas Jones will perform the entire show lashed to a small platform set in a smaller, rotating wheel that traverses the gigantic one much like a hand on a clock does. The chorus of 12 women, often speaking in unison, will climb on the 23-foot-tall, five-ton wheel (designed by Efren Delgadillo Jr.), at times mechanically setting it in motion.
The show began previews August 29 for its month-long run, and is part of Radar L.A., the international theater festival that started in L.A. in 2011 and is returning in late September.
Boasting a new translation by poet Joel Agee of the Greek classic text ascribed to the tragic poet Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound is a co-production with CalArts Center for New Performance. It's also an opportunity for director Travis Preston, the dean of CalArts' School of Theater, to revisit a play he directed decades previously in Poland, not long after he had worked with experimental theater director Jerzy Grotowski.
The drama dates back to 450 B.C. and depicts the suffering of the titan Prometheus. Chained by the pitiless gods to a remote mountain, Prometheus is doomed to eternal torment for his defiance of Zeus in giving mortals the gift of fire.
Preston says that the play is more of a dramatic poem than a typical drama, and lies on the border between ritual and artistic expression. The 12-person chorus is "the most exciting aspect to me," Preston admits, adding, "Working with a chorus asks you to address issues that really define the concept of acting."
As well as representing Prometheus' mountain prison, the wheel is meant to provide a dense strata of imagery and metaphor, referencing medieval clocks, the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma, a Catherine Wheel, the Astrological Zodiac -- even da Vinci's Vitruvian Man sketch.
Delgadillo Jr. says his design was influenced by all four natural element, drawing from water wheels, wind tunnels and clock mechanisms. The main challenge, he says, was "How do I move a guy without moving the guy?" He solved it by having the imprisoned Prometheus (lashed to his platform) move within the clock face, signifying the protagonist's endless helplessness.
The contraption was too massive to transport in its entirety, thus was engineered to be dismantled and reconstructed in the Villa's amphitheater with the help of a 90-ton crane.
It will be interesting to see if the wheel helps the enduring themes of Prometheus Bound -- heroic struggle and a lament against tyranny -- resound in the 21st century.
Performances of Prometheus Bound will be held on Thursdays through Saturdays, September 5-28, with previews from August 29-31. The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Tickets are $42 ($38 for students and seniors, $25 for preview performances). Tickets may be purchased online at www.getty.edu or by telephone at (310) 440-7300.