FORUM: Heroism and Rebellionposted on May 9th, 2011 by Katie Frazer
As Montclair State prepares for commencement, the Peak Performances 2010-11 season also draws to a close. Before we pause for the summer, Insite’s Student Forum takes a look back to Prometheus-Landscape II, the compelling and daring world premiere that kicked off the winter/spring semester. Katie Frazer (below), Zachary Nussbaum, Matt Robertson, and Lisa Johnson—all students in Neil Baldwin’s Theatre 208 Play Script Interpretation class—offer their analyses and impressions. These critiques are posted on Insite as part of the ongoing effort by Montclair State’s Creative Research Center to feature provocative writing by Montclair State undergraduate students.
Everyone knows the Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan who defied Zeus by stealing fire from the gods and bringing it to the mortal humans. Prometheus’s struggle to come to terms with the eternal punishment of being chained to a rock is the subject of the play Prometheus Bound, by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. This mythological tale was reimagined in a new and exciting way by the visionary theater artist Jan Fabre and playwright Jeroen Olyslaegers in the theatrical piece Prometheus–Landscape II. In this production, the longstanding themes of the Prometheus myth were presented alongside new and interesting insights into how the myth is relevant to the modern race of humans that Prometheus went against the will of the gods to save.
As I said above, Prometheus–Landscape II developed its central themes and ideas from those of the original Aeschylus play. A major theme that Landscape worked with was the idea of heroism in human culture. Prometheus is obviously meant to be seen as the hero of the play and to humankind because he has given the gift of fire to the humans, who, without this force, would not have been able to survive. While Prometheus is presented as a hero, he is also shown to be weak and vulnerable because of the punishment that is given for his heroic actions. The visual of our hero being suspended and restrained is not a comforting one to the audience and begs the question, Is the price of heroism really worth being heroic? So if human beings are unfit or unwilling to be heroes, then who will be our hero? The play also deals with this fundamental question in the opening monologues of the piece, in which a performer continually asks, where is our hero? Humanity’s want and need for an outside hero is represented in Landscape by the seemingly lost, confused, or tortured human characters, such as the performers surrounding Prometheus at the beginning of the play and Io the “heifer-girl,” who is tormented by Hera.
Another dominant theme throughout the work was rebellion and the conflict between the current order and the new order. Over the course of the play, Prometheus only speaks once, but when he does he speaks of how Zeus will eventually fall from power, just as his father had before him, and how, when that day comes, Prometheus himself will be delivered and freed by the generation that rules after Zeus. Prometheus rebelled against the established reign of Zeus by endowing humans with fire, thus saving the race that the king god wanted to destroy. While he is punished for his act now, Prometheus assures the audience that he will be praised by the new regime for his rebellion against Zeus. Rebellion is also pertinent to the statement being made by Fabre toward the attitude of modern day people to fire and how many regulations and safety codes there are regarding fire, as humans are now beginning to rebel against the gift that Prometheus gave to us to save us.
Both of these themes are solidified and validated throughout Landscape by the obvious re-occurring image of fire. Without fire, Prometheus would not have been a hero at all, and fire itself is the rebellion that he is being punished incessantly for. Also, fire is a destructive entity that both helps and hinders the humans and the way that they live. Fire is at the very core of everything that Landscape and Prometheus as a character is, and the way that Jan Fabre was able to use fire in symbolic ways throughout the production gave a renewed importance to the tired myth of Prometheus.
Strong symbols and images could be found everywhere you looked in the world of Landscape. From beginning to end, Fabre assaulted the audience with a sensual arsenal that was meant to drive home the themes mentioned above.
The heroism theme, for me, was best expressed through the actual text of the piece. Olyslaegers’ words combined with Fabre’s design of having the text projected above the stage allowed me to understand and appreciate everything that was being said. Because the text was so clearly presented to the audience, I was able to home into and dissect what was being discussed. Heroism—specifically, Prometheus’s heroic status—was a popular topic among the characters in Landscape. From the very beginning of the play, when the audience was asked in the opening monologue where our hero was and what kind of hero, if any, we needed, to the monologues of the characters who visit Prometheus and view his heroism in different ways, the audience can almost feel the term change in meaning and connotation. At the start, a hero is something that is needed and desired, whereas, at the end, when Pandora speaks, the negative consequences of Prometheus’s heroic actions turn the word hero into a slander. This evolution was greatly enhanced by the audience’s ability to see the actual words in front of them.
Rebellion was mainly portrayed through the use of fire. As I mentioned earlier, in Landscape, Fabre works to make a statement about fire restrictions, specifically in theaters. He uses fire in many forms, such as cigarettes, matches, and blow torches during several scenes, to represent both the rebellion of Prometheus’s theft of fire and Fabre’s own rebellion against the rules that prohibit the use of cigarettes and open flames inside of a theater space. Fabre also uses fire to symbolize the rebellion of humans against the gods. By accepting fire from Prometheus, humankind directly went against the wishes of the gods, and that rebellion made the humans drunk with the power that fire afforded them. Fabre beautifully visualizes this through the choreographed “fire dance,” in which the performers wore underwear that was equipped with matches and a striking paper. Throughout this sequence, performers would strike their matches on the paper and then proceed to swallow the flame. This also works to show the primitive nature of humanity before fire was delivered to them.
Overall, I believe that the story of Prometheus is something that is still relevant to modern culture and humanity. We as humans still search and gravitate toward heroes, rebellions still occur as factions butt heads, and fire is still an essential part of our human civility. Fabre created striking and beautiful symbols of the ancient themes within the myth of Prometheus by using sight, sound, and smell in order to awaken the audience to the heroic and rebellious spirit of Prometheus within each of us.
Katie Frazer is a student in Neil Baldwin’s Play Script Interpretation class.