nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
June 26, 2008
Armed only with a laptop and an overhead projection of a blank word processing page, playwright/performer Aravind Enrique Advanthaya opens Prometheus Bound with the simple act of writing: we watch him speaking and typing the opening of a version of the tale made famous by Aeschylus—that moment where Might and Violence visit Prometheus chained to a rock, where he has been imprisoned for bringing culture and learning to the human race. As the scene progresses, what he writes starts to diverge from the literal words he says. What starts as a quiet yet engrossing meditation evolves into a frenzied split-focus rant as the audience is forced to keep up with and reconcile the divergent audio and visual renditions of the thoughts that Advanthaya is trying to convey.
But this is only the beginning. In no way resembling a conventional retelling of the Aeschylus play—and there is nothing conventional at all about this show—this version of Prometheus Bound instead takes the audience on an hour-long journey that is far and away one of the most original and exciting theatrical experiences I've yet encountered. According to Aeschylus, the art of writing was a gift stolen from the gods, so the Prometheus myth is a fitting launching point for a theatrical genre Advanthaya is calling "Escrito Acto"—"the act of writing"—and the resonance is increased by the fact that Prometheus Bound is one of the oldest—if not the oldest—complete works of drama extant in Western literature. Conceived not all that much later than the development of written culture in Aeschylus's own Greek civilization, and dealing with the very dawn of that moment in the human imagination, Prometheus Bound becomes a churning cauldron of ideas in which Advanthaya swirls a whirlpool of exciting thoughts, forces, and energies that explore the mystery and magic of the birth of language both historically and in the very moments he is creating onstage.
How exactly he manages to do this is rather hard to describe, both because the experience is so unique and because the very act of writing about it becomes a head-spinning proposition if one thinks about it too much; suffice to say it's one heck of a ride. Prometheus Bound shifts from lecture to ceremony fluidly and frequently, and Advanthaya is captivating as he morphs from a genial host to a shrieking Cassandra—he can shift from complete accessibility to enigmatic mystery on a dime, but in all his incarnations he is completely engaged with the audience and his material. For Advanthaya the "Escrito Acto" is not about style or structure but about the very essence of the experience, and he has turned himself into a veritable modern-day seer as he sifts through the entrails of the words, letters, and symbols of the culture bequeathed to us by this god chained to a rock. At other times he takes on the rhythms and style of a vaudevillian magician, and there is even audience participation involved, as when one audience member chooses his favorite symbol—a symbol that we soon find out will stand in his stead once he is gone and memories of him slowly dissipate.
This is heady stuff, and by the end of the show Advanthaya has abandoned cognizant language altogether, shifting from English to Spanish to phonetic recreations of seemingly meaningless words, numbers, and symbols. By this point he has somehow drawn the audience into an almost tribal call and response section that could have been the dawn of the strophe and antistrophe sections of the ancient Greek dramas, transforming us into what felt like a tribe of primitive humans struggling with creation of language for the first time. I'm not even sure how we ended up there, but I've never experienced anything in the theatre quite like it.
This final section is called "Translation," and it sums up the experience of the evening quite profoundly. One of the amazing and lingering after-effects of Prometheus Bound is the conscious realization that as I am writing this sentence in this very moment I am translating my memories and thoughts into symbols that you, as you are reading in this very moment, are translating into thoughts. And they're not even the same moment. Wow. Just go see it.