Review: Weightless, a Little Rock Opera About Sisterhood, Rape, and Revenge
The Kilbanes musicalize the myth of Procne and Philomela.
If you want to repurpose ancient mythology into a feminist tale of empowerment, you're going to have to take a few artistic liberties. And so it is with the Kilbanes (that's husband-and-wife duo Dan Moses and Kate Kilbane) in their new rock opera Weightless, which is now making its off-Broadway debut with WP Theater. It takes a gruesome story from Ovid's Metamorphoses and sets it to 75 minutes of irresistible music.
It's about sisters Procne (Kate Kilbane) and Philomela (Lila Blue), seemingly inseparable and always dreaming about the gods, especially the huntress Diana. When Philomena is betrothed to "some local halfwit" (Moses, being a good sport), they decide to run away and live in a shack on the beach. That is, until Procne encounters Tereus (Josh Pollock) and becomes obsessed with his bow and arrow — just like Diana's. She decides to go with him to his island, a brief holiday that inevitably leads to pregnancy and unbounded domesticity. But what about Philomela?
"When you run away we go together," Philomela says to her sister, her big doe eyes conveying hurt and confusion. Slightly quirky and painfully sincere, Blue has real sororal chemistry with Kilbane, who seems both more worldly and more vulnerable. Together, they're like an ancient precursor to Heart. Playing the bass guitar as she sings, Kilbane puts the roc(k) in Procne, and her riff battles with Pollock are indeed the stuff of legend.
All the musicians in the show are talented (Moses on keys, Dan Harris and Kofy Brown on percussion), but Pollock brings unimpeachable skill and a growly baritone to the role of a man who goes on to rape his sister-in-law and cut out her tongue. He would feel genuinely threatening if director Tamilla Woodard hadn't staged Weightless as a rock concert, keeping the characters mostly confined to the safety of their kit setups.
Stacey Derosier's pulsating lights accent the music, which is perfectly balanced within the intimate McGinn/Cazale Theater (sound design by Joanna Lynne Staub). Dina El-Aziz's costumes bridge the narrow gap between Bay Area rock band and fertility cult. And Peiyi Wong's set, while appearing like a standard band setup, provides multiple levels for action.
Watching from on high is the messenger goddess Iris (Kofy Brown) whose fascination with the sisters (and their fascination with flight) is bound to play an important role in the story. Brown brings an affably mischievous quality to this narrator and decisive player, whose actions are not entirely devoid of self-interest.
Keen observers of the theater will notice certain similarities between Weightless and the Tony-winning musical Hadestown, which also tries to force the square peg of Greek mythology into the round hole of a modern political morality tale. I'm happy to report that the music in Weightless is even better, informed by a classic rock sensibility that foregrounds percussion in a way that will keep your head bobbing throughout. I've been singing hey-oh-way-oh-wake like a hipster swallow ever since I left the theater, and I won't soon forget the rock drama that ensues during the fatal confrontation between Procne and Tereus.
Perhaps to make the story more palatable to a modern audience, the Kilbanes considerably soften the true extent of Procne's revenge, turning a psychotic plot (think Titus Andronicus) into an unfortunate accident at the climax of an action movie. Nonetheless, Procne and Philomela are rewarded for their faith in the end. Human sensibilities may change over the centuries, but the Gods remain eternally the editors of a celestial tabloid — totally cool with you killing your kids as long as you do so in an amusing manner.
Unless you're a fusty classicist unwilling to entertain a little revisionism, you're going to have a good time at Weightless, a perfectly enjoyable spin on a perfectly dreadful tale.