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Theatre in Review: Weightless (WP Theatre)

Photo: Joan Marcus

Early on in Weightless, somebody notes, "Most people never know there are gods walking among us -- in fact, most people have forgotten the gods altogether." Not in musical theatre, where those fractious and superhuman creatures are hard to avoid. Like the poor, they are always with us, beginning with Rodgers and Hart's By Jupiter and continuing up to Anaïs Mitchell's Hadestown. The latter show is far from irrelevant, as Weightless has been conceived along similar lines, combining a tale from Ovid with contemporary rock music in a presentational concert format. Still, this entertainment, featuring book, music, and lyrics by The Kilbanes (the duo consisting of Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses), has an identity all its own. It's a modestly scaled, but high-impact, evening of musical mythmaking, an intriguing calling card for some talents you're likely to hear from again.

The story borrowed from the Roman poet is that of Procne and Philomela, sisters so inseparable that, when their father tries to marry off one of them, they flee, starting life anew in splendid isolation. Their days are idyllic until sex intrudes in the person of sly, insinuating Tereus, who spirits off Procne to his private island for an extended bout of erotic delights. Eventually, Procne becomes pregnant and Tereus' conquest of her seems complete. But the abandoned Philomela, traveling via a set of self-woven wings, arrives in search of her sister. Tereus, refusing to have his paradise invaded, commits an appalling act of brutality that will have profound repercussions for all three characters.

The Kilbanes' lyrics can be a tad pedestrian at times, and they aren't too fussy about their rhymes, but the script has good bones, and the music deftly exploits various rock styles, embracing the narrative's extended emotional range with songs that are, alternately, tender, wicked, furious, and transcendent. As played by a crack musical ensemble, they keep us engaged in the sisters' wildly changing fortunes, their descent into tragedy, followed by an ultimate moment of transcendence.

The authors are joined onstage by a gifted company of actor/musicians. Kate Kilbane's natural warmth and radiance make her an ideal Procne; she is also a skilled bass guitar player and her voice melds gorgeously with Lila Blue, whose Philomela is a heartbreakingly unguarded soul, unable to imagine the cruelties lying in wait for her. Josh Pollock's driving, nasal vocal delivery, hinting at all sorts of corruptions, is a fine Tereus; he also provides some sensational guitar work. (Also on hand are Dan Harris on percussion and Moses on keyboards.) Presiding, authoritatively, over everything with a skeptically raised eyebrow is Kofy Brown as the goddess Iris. "I know," she says. "You've never heard of me; it's fine. You only remember the big twelve -- goddess of love, goddess of war, blah blah blah." Impossibly tall and lanky, with a strikingly angular face, she is a natural scene-stealer, not least when playing a mean set of conga drums. She is reason enough to see Weightless.

Under Tamilla Woodard's direction, aided by nicHi douglas' musical staging, the entire enterprise has a pleasantly impromptu quality. This includes the production design, especially Peiyi Wong's bandstand scenic arrangement and Johnny Moreno's images of wings and stars and rainbows, front-projected on a rough-hewn screen made up of loosely strung-together ropes. Lighting designer Stacey Derosier layers in deep pools of saturated color, carves out the performers with sidelight, and adds some rock-concert bumps and chases when needed. Joanna Lynne Staub's sound design is loud and lively without being overwhelming. Dina El-Aziz has dressed the company attractively.

Weightless is, I suppose, a minor piece, an exercise in crossbreeding genres and styles, but it casts a potent spell and the people in it are a pleasure to spend time with. Add The Kilbanes to your list of artists pushing musical theatre in interesting new directions. --David Barbour

(30 September 2022)

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