Theater review: 'Perseus Bayou' at Imagination Stage
By Celia Wren
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Given that the ancient Aegeans bequeathed us some of the original dysfunctional households - the clans of Oedipus, Agamemnon and Zeus himself come to mind - Greek myth might seem an unlikely source for a children's show about family loyalty and love. But Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox turned the legend of Perseus into just such a parable, by gumbo, with their extraordinarily clever and tuneful "Perseus Bayou," set in post-Civil War Louisiana. The musical - which features a Cajun-inflected score by Maddox, a book by Surface and lyrics by both - is romping with the exuberance of a Mardi Gras parade at Bethesda's Imagination Stage through March 13. (Imagination Stage recommends the production for ages six and up.)
To note the domestic theme in "Perseus Bayou," staged here by Surface (who pocketed a Helen Hayes Award for directing the show's 2001 premiere at Theater of the First Amendment), is not to imply that the piece lacks other themes. Centered on a flighty young braggart named Percy, who learns honor and steadfastness while rescuing his mom from a villain, battling the monster Medusa and resisting the corruption of a war-ravaged culture, the musical is a coming-of-age tale that speaks of integrity, redemption and social healing.
But forget all that highfalutin moral stuff: "Perseus Bayou," at least in its current incarnation, is also a funny entertainment with rollicking music and gorgeous visual design. The adventures of Percy (Tyler Herman) and his tomboy friend Andromeda, a.k.a. Andy (an enjoyably feisty Casie Platt), spin out in a swampland that scenic designer Tony Cisek and lighting designer Dan Covey have imagined as a mysterious cavern of blue and green. Raised in this enchanted bayou by his aristocratic mother, Danae (Lauren Shmalo), Percy meets and clashes with the evil landlord Polydectes (Evan Casey, oozing sinister charisma).
Lusting after Danae, Polydectes tries to get rid of her son by ordering him to kill Medusa (Kristen Jepperson), whose glance turns mortals to stone. But with help from Andy, the magical panther Hermes (a slinky Matthew Schleigh), the conjure woman Athena (a regal Shaunte Tabb) and a reflective washboard, Percy vanquishes his enemies, kills a giant gator and returns to make a happy home, with Andy, by Danae's side.
Brandon McWilliams supplies knockout costumes, including the carnival garb worn at Polydectes's decadent parties and the exotic robes of Athena. Adult mythology fans will enjoy spotting the owl - Athena's sacred bird - on the conjure woman's staff.
At a matinee performance last weekend, lead actor Herman's singing sometimes seemed off-key. But the show's music is otherwise infectious, with ringing vocals from Tabb in particular, and accordion-rich instrumentals that now exult in dance rhythms and seem to echo the murky windings of the bayou.
Perseus Bayou Book by Mary Hall Surface; music, David Maddox; lyrics, Surface and Maddox. Directed by Surface; music director, George Fulginiti-Shakar; sound design, Christopher Baine; fight choreography, Lorraine Ressegger-Sloan; choreography, Ingrid Zimmer; associate scenic design, Hannah Crowell; associate lighting design, Andrew Cissna. With Ricardo Frederick Evans. About 90 minutes. Recommended for age 6 and up.