By Eric J. Grimm
A punk, queer retelling of the Persephone myth with a script culled from wide ranging texts including film scripts and rap lyrics sounds like my idea of a good time. I welcome the opportunity to watch performers give new life to ancient tales and repurpose existing material. In order to make such an ambitious undertaking work, you have to pack a punch. The performers and audience must lose their senses of time and comfort and constant transfixion is a must. The Nerve Tank’s The Maiden, now playing at La MaMa, unfortunately rests on its concept and never seizes the opportunity to wallop theatergoers. It’s weird, for sure, but it’s textbook weird. It expects its audience to be terrified of leather and albinism. Once it has gone from concept to fruition, much in the way that Persephone emerges from the underworld in springtime, it has already wilted.
Director/choreographer/scenic designer Melanie S. Armer manages to make the proceedings feel as distant as possible in the intimate black box of The Club at La MaMa. While the performers are mere feet away from the audience and there is some brief interaction, the play may as well have been performed in a proscenium setting. White spray-painted luggage creates a barrier between the audience and the chorus (led by composer Admiral Grey and featuring James “Face” Yu and Brandt Adams). We are meant to feel as though we were in a “trailer park night club,” though you’d never guess it. The Club, with its bar in the back and endless seating arrangement possibilities could be made to look like such a trailer park night club given a little more creativity. Armer’s choreography makes the action seem all the more coldly theatrical. The stifled modern dance feels uncomplicated and distracting.
The combination of movement and speech serves to dazzle and disappoint. Mark William Lindberg plays the gender-bending Hades in a cape with human hair fringe and dangling bullets. It’s a standard queer emcee character, but Lindberg impresses, particularly when he convincingly recites lyrics from P. Diddy’s “I Need a Girl” through a megaphone while skillfully maneuvering his tall, quadricycle chariot. Robin Kurtz, as Persephone, is not as confident with the multitasking. Her movements look over-rehearsed and she doesn’t quite grab you when she regurgitates material like Faye Dunaway’s mid coitus speech from Network. If Kurtz were a little more unhinged, Persephone’s power shift would be all the more notable.
If The Maiden’s performers seem like they’re not having much fun, it may be because the choices of text assembled by Chance D. Muehleck feel uninspired. The hodgepodge of various speeches, poetry, and lyrics doesn’t feel cohesive and some of them, such as the Patricia Lockwood poem “Rape Joke,” are too obvious. I wish that Muehleck had taken the more radical approach of creating a textual hybrid that felt like an organically blended new text. Perhaps that avenue might have given the rest of the creative team more inspiration to go wild.
Photos: Raymond Haddad
The Maiden runs from March 28-April 13th at The Club at La MaMa (74A E. 4th St. 212-475-7710)