Mythology with a rom-com twist

Persephone bites a pomegranate and determines her future

Full Circle Theatre looked to Greek mythology for its upcoming production a collective creation detailing the story of Persephone daughter of the goddess Demeter.

“Persephone is very much a coming-of-age story” says Full Circle co-artistic director Erin Weir adding that the theme seemed particularly appropriate for a company populated with 20-somethings. “She’s a young woman who lives in her mother’s shadow.”

That is until Zeus tricks her into descending into the underworld the domain of Hades. Once there Persephone develops a role of her own: the Queen of the Underworld.

“She carves out her own niche. Persephone cares for souls while Hades processes them into the underworld” Weir says.

In Full Circle’s production the creative team has added a very modern — and unexpected — “rom-com” spin to the relationship between the “socially awkward and isolated” Hades and Persephone which is quite unlike anything you’d find in the ancient texts.

Weir says this decision was mainly the result of “speaking to the skills” of the creative team. In preparing to write their own adaptation of Persephone’s story company members spent time researching various versions of the original myth. They then discussed their findings and the various themes that spoke to each of them.

“We came across at least five different versions of the myth and melded them together. The themes that kept coming back were the coming-of-age story or a love story or something in the middle” Weir says.

“In the original myth they’re telling the story of how the seasons came about. In our version however we’re telling the story of a girl. That’s the main difference.”

You see once Persephone is trapped in the underworld Demeter goddess of the harvest is full of sorrow at the loss of her daughter. So she creates winter for the very first time.

In addition to telling Persephone’s story Weir says Full Circle’s production also covers Demeter’s journey one that sees her lose and eventually regain her daughter.

Unlike the other storylines in the play the cast conveys Demeter’s tale entirely through movement.

“Her story and her anguish is the hardest hitting…. Movement is more visceral than text” Weir says adding that Rebecca Fishman’s choreography is accompanied by a “mixed bag” of music including everything from instrumental excerpts to Radiohead.

In addition to Demeter’s earthly world and the underworld of Hades and Persephone the third world to occupy Full Circle’s production is that of Olympus where Zeus and the other gods reside.

Weir says the creative team delineated each of these worlds with the focus on romantic comedy in the underworld movement in the earthly realm and heightened language for those occupying Olympus.

A pomegranate also plays an integral role in Persephone’s story — because she eats the seeds of a pomegranate she finds in the underworld she must return there for a few months out of every year. Her yearly return to the underworld coincides with winter.

In the original myth Persephone is either tricked into eating the pomegranate or she is unaware of the implications of doing so depending on which version one reads. In Full Circle’s production however Persephone chooses to eat the fruit

“Persephone has to choose her outcome. Otherwise how could you root for her in a modern society?” Weir asks.

Just as Persephone exhibits traits of a modern woman in this show so do the costumes — don’t expect a stage full of traditional togas.

“We’ve tried to include all times and no times with the costuming because they’re gods and they’re timeless” Weir says.

In other words every character’s costume reflects more or less a different era. Persephone for example has a peasant blouse flowing skirt and bare feet representing the hippie era. Hades resembles a newspaperman from the 1940s whereas Hermes is wearing leg warmers those cherished relics from the 1980s.

And all the gods don plenty of body paint.

Persephone runs until November 9 at Dancers’ Studio West.