September 8, 2013
Prometheus Bound, World Premiere, A new translation by Joel Agee, Directed by Travis Preston CalArts Center for New Performance, Presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa —
Pinned high on a gigantic metal wheel, Aeschylus’ ragged Prometheus has, for the past eighty minutes, been spitting out toxic denunciations of all-mighty Zeus and his dictates. Hermes himself just arrived with the Big Chief’s final ultimatum, only to be met with more curses and maledictions from the unrepentant Giver-of-Fire. Finally, Prometheus pauses and looks out, seeing in the far distance the glow of Zeus’ destructive bolt on its way toward him like a heat-seeking missile. Lower down on the steel armature, the flock of women who have gathered in solidarity with the Titan make tremulous little cries and flutter like birds. The air above the amphitheatre thickens with expectant dread as the music rises toward a dissonant crest, the lights dying away.
Aeschylus’s uncompromising monumentality reminds me always of Richard Serra, whose sculptures wrench us into a state of empathy with expressive slabs of steel. In Prometheus Bound nothing much really happens up on stage; all the “action” is in our minds as we resist like bucking horses our underlying compassion for the defiant wretch tacked up there against the cliff. Inexorably, we are drawn by our own natures into a solidarity that undermines our customary submission to the dictates of necessity, and Aeschylus is enough of a prick to insist that we take this pill without sugar coating – “give up hope of results,” as the Tibetans might put it. Finally, there’s something onomatopoetic (big word, I know) about Prometheus, Bound in how Aeschylus’s play carries us up a steep incline to the edge of a dark gulf and throws us off – the form of the play, in other words, reiterates the cliff-ness that also anchors its central image. Read More .