Ancient Greek myth has it that the Titan Prometheus was bound to a rock by Zeus as punishment for stealing the divine element of fire and turning it over to humans. Theatrical fire is what's missing in a version of the tale staged currently at Society Hill Playhouse's Red Room.
The flame of A Prometheus Bound: A Folk Musical is weak, barely fanned by inadequate production values, and misted by a cast whose a cappella voices are generally too halting when they are not (a few times, cringingly) off key.
The play - despite its name, a musical mostly in its chanted dialogue, composed by Tabitha Allen - is the work of a new company, Renegade Classic Theatre. The five cast members are experienced, and have been seen in recent productions on established area stages.
Their modern rendition of Prometheus Bound - by Aeschylus or maybe not, depending on what research you favor - is intense and sincere, and it's satisfying to see young, serious local actors take on such a work, even if the outcome's not so gratifying. Michael Durkin, the director, also adapted the play, and he is faithful to its declamations, its narrative rhythm, and its rigid framework.
The new version has the same dramatic problem as the original: Once you get Prometheus (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) bound in chains, the whole thing becomes immobile. He stands, he slumps, he sits, he stands again. The Oceanids - the representatives of mankind who come to share in his pain and challenge his pride - stand with him, slump, sit, and stand again. The idea of staging here is as static as poor Prometheus himself, doomed to bondage for 10,000 years while a giant eagle pecks out his regenerating liver every day. (The mythical eagle - call it the original culture vulture - is not part of the play.)
The production, accompanied by guitar, washboard, and spoon percussion, also has a performance glitch, a stagecraft snag, and a conceptual defect.
Performance: If you're giving us a cappella voices, make them strong and clear. When Kate Black-Regan enters the 90-minute one-act as the wandering Io - the wretched object of Zeus' lust - she pumps the show substantially for 10 minutes, as she speaks and sings her woe with a crispness and power that pulls the show from its meandering, unfocused intensity. Karina Croskrey, Sean Bradley, and Eric Scotolati, and even Stanton-Ameisen in the title role, cannot match her, and sometimes the solo singing withers in the spotlights.
Stagecraft: We should be entranced by this tale. There's little magic in the telling because the production itself is nickel-and-dime.
Concept: Durkin has set the story in 1935, on an Oklahoma farm. Prometheus is a maverick troubadour who accuses Zeus, windstorms, and bankers of encouraging the masses to flee to a promised land, California. Nice idea, and a clear metaphor for . . . what? At one point, I thought Prometheus represented a failed Obama, at another, the president of Libya. At yet another, I decided the fuzzy context wasn't worth parsing - and wished that the production itself connected with us.
Presented by Renegade Classic Theatre at the Red Room of Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St., through June 11. Tickets: $20. Information: 215-923-0210 or http://renegadeclassictheatre.ticketleap.com.EndText