Dallas — The PrismCo production of Persephone: The Shadow Show onstage at 500 Singleton is smart. Written and choreographed by Katy Tye, it swirls Greek mythology, movement theater, and music like scarves within a monochromatic earthen environment that looks like it leapt out of an Anselm Kiefer artwork. Persephone rests perfectly within the warehouse venue (formerly the Quality Ironworks building) in Trinity Groves.
PrismCo is a collaborative performance group co-founded by Jeff Colangelo and Katy Tye, who share a common connection as graduates of Southern Methodist University. This production is sponsored by SMU/Meadows School of the Arts and by graphic design company theSTRIPEDheart. Two weeks prior to the Oct. 30 preview seen for this review, PrismCo achieved 125 percent of the funding it sought through Indiegogo for this production. This enabled them to do the usual things, such as pay for equipment and materials, and to compensate the performers and designers. It also made it possible for them to hire a magician, Trigg Watson. No, neither another word nor clue will be given about that. It’s a secret.
This production, an interpretation of the Greek myth of Persephone, is actually more strongly informed by a Tara Mae Mulroy poem entitled “Persephone Writes to Her Mother.” The text of this poem is provided on the back of the program. This is a shadow movement piece, which means there is no spoken dialogue. We do not miss it.
Assisted by efficient projection lighting, the space itself is a silent ambiguous character. The audience enters to original music composed and performed on piano by Dean Wray. At some point there is an awareness of the characters having entered and passed through the audience and onto the stage. Persephone (Katy Tye), goddess of new growth/spring, and her mother Demeter (Hope Endreni), goddess of agriculture, find each other in a meadow and work happily together to flower the earth.
Upstage behind a backlit muslin scrim appears Hades (Josh Porter), god of the Underworld, in shadow. The shadow work is engaging and aesthetically perfect for the Hades sections. In the myth, Zeus influences the seduction and abduction of Persephone by Hades. However, in this telling of the story, though Hades spirits her away, he is more like the character in the first line of Mulroy’s poem “Mother, he is a gentleman.” After dinner and dance, he proposes, and she accepts thus becoming Queen of the Underworld.
Demeter, filled with confusion and despair, searches the world for Persephone. When Persephone is in the Underworld, new growth above ground stops. Tree leaves change colors and fall away. Eventually, Persephone misses her mother and returns for a visit. Demeter is happy to see her but furious to learn of her marriage to Hades. When he arrives to collect his bride, a tug of war ensues with Demeter fighting strongly to keep Persephone with her. In the end a truce is managed, an agreement of sharing wherein Persephone will spend a certain amount of time with her mother (Spring) and a majority of the year with her husband (Autumn/Winter).
The shadow ensemble (Jacky Beatrice, Grace Cuny, Dakota Ratliff and Eric A. Berg) establishes the Underworld, moving in and out of the grotesque with unexpected flashes of levity. The preview audience loved their work. Endreni dances with strength, moving expressively but without theatricality. Tye is lithe and lyrical as Persephone. Porter’s shadow work is very nice, causing the audience to reconsider whatever preconceived notions it might have had of Hades as a character.
PrismCo has succeeded in creating a sense of artistic immersiveness for the audience. Because their work is not dependent upon dialogue, that absence creates an unrestricted space within which the audience can receive the work and translate the experience. PrismCo describes this as creating a “neutral mask.” What they are doing is really not experimental theater, and their shadow work does not mean they are an extension of Pilobolus. PrismCo is working within the domain of movement theater, but it is quite possible that their methodology cannot yet be captured with one term. Perhaps it never will conform to that neat familiarity. They are still evolving as an emerging company, exciting to watch.
One thing is certain: The artists of PrismCo have something to ‘say’—and we should probably listen.