By Donna Herman
I’ll say it again, I love the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater. Its purpose is to introduce early career artists to a wider audience, and it succeeds magnificently. This time I’m smitten with Weightless, an adaptation of the Greek myth of Procne and Philomena. If their myths are to be believed, the Ancient Greeks were a bloodthirsty, vengeful people, and this lot were particularly gruesome. But Weightless manages to go beyond the horrific deeds and celebrate the relationship between two sisters. And give us a fascinating glimpse of what it truly means to be a Greek god.
Written and performed by The Kilbanes, a self-styled “theatrical rock group” out of San Francisco, Weightless is part theater, part concert and completely electrifying from the first song “Breath and Your Bones.” It’s the next generation of rock opera, and I found myself thinking about Tommy by The Who and last year’s Hundred Days by The Bengson’s at the Festival.
What sets Weightless on the next evolutionary step or rock operas, is the inclusion of a performer who isn’t in the band – who is just there to play a role in the proceedings. Most Greek mythology deals in some fashion with deities and Gods, and certainly the myth of Procne and Philomena is no different. In this iteration, a God plays a central roll as a narrator and observer and, as in the myth, only acts at the end. Procne (Kate Kilbane), Philomena (Lila Blue) and Tereus (Joshua Pollock), the evil King who Procne marries and who separates the sisters, rapes Philomela, cuts out her tongue and imprisons her without Procne’s knowledge, are all Kilbane band members. The God (Julia Brothers) is an actress who is not in the band. She’s an integral part, the deus ex machina, and it wouldn’t work without her presence, either. She’s also the only non-singing role.
Weightless also works because of the incredible chemistry between Kate Kilbane and Lila Blue, and the way their voices mesh. You can practically see the current running between them. Julia Brothers as the God provides just the right note of levity and insouciance combined with power. Director Becca Wolff has used the BRIC space brilliantly, and with the help of lighting designer Ray Oppenheimer and Projection Designer Hana S. Kim, manages to turn a bare stage into strikingly dramatic and different worlds. And direct our attention exactly where it needs to be.
My only quibble with The Under the Radar Festival is that each show only has four or five performances. So, by the time I get to tell you about it, you have probably missed the opportunity to see it. But The Kilbanes (helmed by husband and wife writing team Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses) are already working on their next project. Keep an eye on them.
Weightless by The Kilbanes, Directed by Becca Wolf
WITH: Lila Blue, Julia Brothers, Dan Harris, Kate Kilbane, Dan Moses, Joshua Pollock
Scenic Design by Angrette McCloskey; Costume Design by Christine Crook; Lighting Design by Ray Oppenheimer; Projection Design by Hana S. Kim; Sound Design by Greg T. Kuhn; Music Direction by Dan Moses; Production Stage Management by Jessica Barker; Production Management by Frederic O. Boulay; Executive Producer, Kendra Bator; Producers, Lisa Steindler, Z Space and piece by piece productions. Developed with Encore Theatre, San Francisco. Presented by Under the Radar Festival/The Public Theater.