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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

It was the Nightingale: Persephone’s Play

Or: Our Myths, Ourselves.

By Anna Miles

In the highest room of the tallest tower (more specifically, Garret Seminary) a girl waits, surrounded by lace and naked-bulbs, to be rescued. But from what? From a mother who would keep as a little girl for ever? Or from an obsessed lover who needs her for his own survival rather than her own sake? Or from Herself, when she knows not who she is or what she should do?

Miles, the author and director (as well as set, lighting, sound and costume designer {don’t worry she had help}), brings us into a world of poetry and simplicity, an archetypal tale for women the world over. It is mosaic pieced together from the bedrock of our culture: Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet, Our Bodies Ourselves, and such like things. It bases itself around the story of Persephone (Kennedy), the young goddess of flowers and daughter of Demeter (Lane) goddess of the harvest. Curious about the world beyond her nursery, wanting to fly with the birds and talk with the stars, Persephone entertains and runs away with the lonely but charming Hades (Glossman) ruler of the dead. Traveling with Hades to the Underworld, she tries to figure out what exactly she wants out of life, while her mother in grief tears the world above apart. Persephone comes under the tutelage of Hecate (Kennedy, unrelated) the Goddess of Crossroads (who herself has a long, sad history with Hades) while tending to the distressed soul of Eurydice (Dewdney) a recently deceased bride who pines for her bridegroom Orpheus (Felischer) a man who has trouble taking no for an answer, even from death.

That’s the picture, the two founding myths of the seasons and the arts wound around each other, two myths told for thousands of years that will be told for thousands more. Yet they’ve never been told quite like this. For Persephone is not just Persephone. She is also The Kore (Benowitz), the representation of her Childhood, and The Epopteai (Albert) the representation of the woman she is to become. It is between these two avatars of her personality, the daughter of Demeter and the wife of Hades, that Persephone is pulled. Their arguments over what Persephone should do with her life, while the world withers might seem selfish, but as a fascinating woman once said, “Selfishness must always be forgiven because there is no cure for it” and this personal battle fights doubts held in all times everywhere.

The audience member be ready to warm up to Miles script. The found text, while apt to every scene, sometimes takes more than a moment to recognize. Towards the beginning Persephone’s conversations with her mother and Hades seem disjointed, as though neither party is listening to each other (which, to be fair, they’re not). When our heroine moves to the underworld, and encounters Eurydice and her sorrows, the three personalities begin to argue. From their conflict we find ourselves faced with the echoes and reechoes of Truisms about life and love and growing up and the bridges and gulfs between each. I lost count of the times I sucked in my breath and noted “How true/elegant/pointed that was. I want to remember that” before being distracted by a new shinny truism casually cast off.

Miles compliments her meandering script with very pointed movement pieces. At any given time the Persephone’s were exactly where they need to be, to illustrate their composites state of mind. Between the three of them some very poignant stage pictures are created, most notably the childish wooing between Hades and the Kore, and Persephone's reunion with Demeter. All these were nicely underscored with music, mostly from the 20’s and the 30‘s. Most memorable was a group rendition of Someone to Watch Over Me, and a chilling angelic chorus to underscore Demeter's wrath. Sometimes these catches, especially the peppy ones, drowned out the lines and swamped the progression of thought, but by and large they proved the steeds the poetry and Koans road down the roads of our imaginations.

The ensemble flings itself gamely into this sometime Balletic, sometimes Shepardesque world with a will. Kennedy traces her discoveries about what it means to be a woman cleanly and holds our attention as her mind is pushed and pulled, but she leaves the explosions of expression to her other halves. Albert’s Epopteai is a dark creature, commanding and fearful whilst Benowitz’s largely silent Kore (when she does speak, it hits us hard), slips in and about the dozens of bare-bulbs and sharp corners in eternal grace, every digit an expression of wonder or concern or stubbornness. Lane gives us Demeter’s grief by the spadeful: a raw wound in a red dress curled up in a corner of the space oozing distress. She nimbly walks the line between the stifling formaldehyde love of her daughters keeper and the encouraging, blooming love of her daughter's friend.

Fleischer’s Orpheus is a packaged example of “the nice guy” who loves his yet unconquered fiancé, but has never quite grasped what makes a union a happy one. The effect is one of lovable cad, reminiscent of Hugh Grant in his darker moments. And I must doff my hat, again, to Kennedy (unrelated) for making Hecate so profound. The Goddess of the crossroads is at once Persephone’s friend and antagonist, mirrored past and possible future, a strong woman who made an unwise choice, and is now bound to and driven from the man she loves. Kennedy gives us all this in a slow unraveling, coldness, to concern, to fear, to desperation, to loss and finally to the last thread, hope.

Despite the time it took to get caught in It Was The Nightingale, and my ongoing scramble to separate one pebble of wisdom for another, I was greatly moved by the efforts of Miles and her crew. It was simply good storytelling about a story, growing up, that will always need to be told. It tackles the hazards of love, the foolishness of society, the tricky relations of how to share yourself between your loved ones and how every person has more than one aspect that guides and deludes. Had I daughters (or nieces or wards) of an age, I would consider it my prerogative to take them to the show so that the multi-headed woes that adolescents brings can be beaten, and point out how they might make themselves into their own women, strong and beautiful in sprit, bound to no will but their own.

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