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Prometheus Bound

Gavin Creel stars in this surprisingly touching and often deafening musical retelling of the Greek myth.

Lea DeLaria, Gavin Creel, and Michael Cunio
in Prometheus Bound
(© Marcus Stern)
Pitched to a deafening roar, Prometheus Bound -- the latest genre-mashing musical masterminded by American Repertory Theatre artistic director Diane Paulus -- is clearly geared to the clubbing crowd, young would-be rebels who may have missed out on the punk phenomenon but appreciate its style and spirit. The experience is raw and loud, all 3D and in your face -- and sprawled across your cabaret table.

It's also, improbably, touching and thought-provoking, thanks largely to a poetically adapted script by Steven Sater, who here illumines Greek mythology much as he did sexual repression in 1890s Germany with Spring Awakening. Still, it might be a good idea to go in knowing the general outline of the story in order to fully absorb the goings-on.

True to the play's title, Prometheus (Gavin Creel) is constrained a good portion of the time, but that doesn't prevent him from writhing and howling in protest. Sater, in fact, sees this Zeus-defier as the prototypal political prisoner -- and each night, a curtain speech draws attention to persecuted dissidents singled out by Amnesty International.

Prometheus' punishable offense was to favor humans with the gift of fire (hitherto a Zeus exclusive), and for that he's chained to a rock by a gang of villainous demigods. Leading the pack, decked out in full black-leather butch regalia, is the redoubtable jazz diva Lea DeLaria, who gets to do a bit of scatting later on -- pretty much the only time the milling crowd goes silent, out of awed respect.

She starts out evilly cackling, and there's some cause for trepidation during the opening scenes, when -- with all the bondage and Tasering -- Prometheus threatens to veer into an exercise in stylized sadism. Then the "daughters of the aether" -- a trio of rock lovelies -- swoop in with sighs of solace, and the focus turns back to Prometheus and just what statement he's trying to make.

Having entrusted a monumental secret -- a history-altering prophecy -- to the similarly beleaguered Io (powerhouse singer Uzo Aduba, very affecting as the victim of "divine" rape), Prometheus knows that his punishment will only intensify, since an emissary, Hermes (an amusingly debonair Gabe Ebert), threatens as much. Prometheus could save himself worse torture by divulging the secret. Bravely, though, he chooses to keep silent and suffer, in service to a higher cause.