Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lord of the Underworld's Home of Unwed Mothers (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

When attending Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz, I got gobsmacked.  Someone mentioned it was about Persephone and did I know the story?

For the record, Persephone is my favorite character in Greek mythology.  She is the daughter of Demeter, the Earth Goddess, and she ends up stolen away into the Underworld by Hades judge of the dead.  In ancient times worshipers revered her as the bridge between life and death.

Louisa Hill's script takes the archetypes and templates from Hellenistic religion, reshaping them into a compelling story of a mother and daughter separated by far, far more than mere time, distance or generation--yet remaining connected in some startling ways.

Dee (Corryn Cummings) we meet as a middle aged woman, parent to the intense Corie (Michaela Slezak).  They don't seem to get along.

Credit: Ed Krieger
Act One for the most part consist's of Dee's story, of how as a Roman Catholic girl in the 1960s she got pregnant and the not-so-little Hell she went through as a result.  Betrayed by her parents, rejected by the biological father of her baby, enduring the scorn and pressure--and sometimes torture--leading up to abandoning her child.  In a series of letters to her daughter, left in a file made available when she comes of age, Dee pours out events.  In her own way a rebel, she adored living things--gardens, trees, fruit, flowers.  Her parents, hailing from (and feeling shame for) farm stock, did not understand.  Nor in the end did they seemingly realize they'd driven their child to salt her own garden.

 Act Two--as you perhaps guessed, focuses on Corie, that little girl given up for her own good, in a deep wild hope she would be happy.  In fact, her story turns out even worse than Dee's.

Credit: Ed Krieger
Primly informed she was evil, Corie lost her first home because the man and woman who so wanted a child didn't want her.  The second fell away when she told a terrible truth (and of course was not believed).  Third because by then she was a problem child, with issues and rage to spare.  Little wonder she discovered and fell in love with METAL!  Or the letters from her birth mother left a nauseous feeling behind.

What follows, though, proves the very embodiment of the myth from which the story derives.  Because like Earth and Fire, Life and Death prove but two polarities which naturally coexist.  So Persephone/Corie and Demeter/Dee do in fact find a way to be part of each others' lives--almost against their will.  Because fundamentally they are two women against the rest of the world--embodies in the Chorus (Andrian Gonzalez and Amy Harmon) who between them bring the rest of this world to the stage.  Parents.  Lovers.  Teachers.  Homeless.  Crime victims.  The lot.  Honestly theirs are secondary, sometimes tertiary characters, so they remain almost cyphers on the page.  It is the cast and director who make most the most of most of them. But what we see on stage does become a re-enactment of myth.  Which makes it a ritual, which in turn theatre has always been.

It certainly was when plays based on this tale were first told and performed.

Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers runs at 8:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through May 14, 2017 at the Skylight Theatre at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, LA, 90027.

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