In the Greek myth., Hades, the king of the underworld receives Zeus’s permission to abduct Persephone and take her with him to the underworld, because it is the only way Demeter might part with her beautiful daughter.. That means, he rapes her. In one version of the myth, Persephone screams so shrilly that she is heard at the top of Mount Olympus. Once ensconced in Hades, Persephone eats a seed of pomegranate and therefore must always return there. Thus, the queen of spring returns underground and causes the winter months.
The myth is addressed in Persephone Bound, a production created by Leda Davis and Jed Tomlinson, with text by Michaela Jeffrey. During a talk back after the premiere, Lyn Kozak, a Classics professor and Homeric scholar, was asked, “What was the ancient Greek attitude to rape?” Her response was “It was endemic,” which makes the choice of this myth in the telling of a rape story particularly important to this production.
The Persephone on stage in this production has only short and almost sporadic dialogue, and that occurs only with Zeus, played by Jed Tomlinson, who appears as a rock star and drummer. Persephone, a first year university student goes to a party, is attracted to an older man and is subsequently raped by him.
What is astonishing is the way in which Persephone’s emotions, under duress are expressed by her flying literally into the air. In the Cirque tradition, she emotes while executing remarkable splits and upside down twists and turns. She soars using belts which are controlled by the man, presumable the villain, performed by Eric Nyland. Nyland’s silence is so evocative it screams at us while Zeus yells out misogynistic platitudes as a Judge in a contest of “she said, he said”.
The cirque element was sometimes distracting, (when the audience wanted a reaction to the insane speechifying of the Zeus/judge), and it did seem at times repetitive. The story was also very touching as Persephone struggled to be heard and to receive some semblance of justice. The dialogue evoked today’s headlines and the relentless abuse of the Zeus persona was brilliant and horrible. During the talkback, Tomlinson, exhausted by the work, said, “It takes a lot of love to play the oppressor, and he was fantastic at it.
Imago theatre’s mandate is to provoke discussion and reaction and in this they have genuinely succeeded. The play leaves many questions for the audience to tackle as they put on their bulky coats and head out into the freezing night. If girls and women who come to this learn nothing more than the necessity of NOT taking a shower and calling the police immediately after the horror of rape, that will have been worth all the effort. One must applaud the amazing and original work this is.
This is a wonderful and imaginative interpretation of a story that must be told , and is well worth battling the freezing weather. Kenneth Burke said “Some art is written as admonition” in this case that is a perfect description.