Archive Review: Prometheus Bound

From March 2007:

Not much happens in the ancient Greek tragedy “Prometheus Bound” (long thought to be by Aeschylus, but now the center of a major authorship debate). Despite the lack of action, it is a starkly powerful piece of literature, full of defiance in the face of tyranny.

The play shows us Prometheus, a rebellious god, shackled to a mountain at the ends of the earth (Zeus has ordered him chained there to punish him for giving fire to the human race). Mostly Prometheus rails about the necessary suffering of life, and hurls proud insolence at the absent Zeus.

Aquila Theatre Company uses a stunning combination of austere spectacle and verbal and athletic pyrotechnics to illuminate classic theater texts, and that vibrant approach is in full effect here. The sight of David Oyelowo, the black actor who portrays Prometheus, in stage-spanning chains and a loincloth immediately brings to mind the horrors of the “Middle Passage” of the slave trade.

This powerful image isn’t overdone, but it does add extra muscle to lines like “I am a god, and gods have done me evil.” Oyelowo’s passionately committed performance also does much to bring this often static play to pulsating life.

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