Persephone -- Theater Review

Julia Stiles returns to her theatrical roots with this experimental take on the classic Greek myth.

NEW YORK -- It's admirable that Julia Stiles would take time out from her film and television career -- she's in the midst of a multiepisode guest turn on Showtime's "Dexter" -- to return to her experimental theater roots.

Starring in the title role of "Persephone," being presented by the Ridge Theater, where she started as a child actress, the talented young performer shines in this technologically and stylistically innovative but decidedly uninvolving multimedia piece.

The show, written by Tony winner Warren Leight ("Side Man"), is a sort of backstage comedy-drama about a 19th century theatrical troupe rehearsing their version of the classic Greek myth about the young daughter of Zeus who is abducted by Hades. Spearheading their production is Jules (Sean Haberle), an ambitious, womanizing director who is romantically involved with both Clara (Stiles), the young ingenue playing the title role, and Grace (Mimi Goese), the veteran actress playing Persephone's mother Demeter.

Jules is particularly proud of the technical innovation he has introduced to his production, namely a Thomas Edison "Magic Lantern" that provides a steady stream of lavish background images. That is, until it suddenly breaks down.

Filled with self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek gags -- Stiles, as the young actress, complains about being upstaged by the visuals and expresses concern for the befuddled audience members -- the piece succeeds neither in illuminating the contemporary resonances of its ancient myth nor in its attempts at meta-theatrical satire.

Slowing the 90-minute piece's pace to deadly effect is the endless stream of New Age-style musical interludes sung by Goese, who also co-wrote the score with Ben Neill.

On a purely technical level, "Persephone" frequently dazzles with its imaginative staging by Bob McGrath and visually stunning use of projections by Laurie Olinder and films by Bill Morrison. But as with so many other examples of its type, the show is far more successful in terms of style than content.

Venue: BAM Harvey Theater, New York (Through Oct. 30)
Book: Warren Leight
Music: Ben Neill, Mimi Goese
Lyrics: Mimi Goese
Cast: Julia Stiles, Mimi Goese, Sean Haberle, Michael Anthony Williams, Ben Neill
Director: Bob McGrath
Films: Bill Morrison
Projection designer: Laurie Olinder
Set designer: Jim Findlay
Choreographer: Dan Safer
Lighting designer: John Ambrosone
Costume designer: Jane Alois Stein
Sound designer: Jamie McElhinney