Weightless is an engaging little indie rock musical, little in the sense that it has only three characters plus a narrator and runs only 75 minutes of playing time. The show features the Bay Area rock band The Kilbanes (married songwriting and performing duo bassist Kate Kilbane and keyboard player Dan Moses) who also wrote the show, and the cast that also filmed the show in 2021 during the pandemic. Like Hadestown, Weightless is based on a story in Greek mythology and includes the gods on Mount Olympus; in this case the source material is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a work written in Latin.
Weightless is performed as if it were a concept album staged as a concert with the characters all played by the six member band who sit or stand on the stage placed on various platforms. Peiyi Wong’s set design does not allow for much stage movement and Tamilla Woodard’s direction does not give the actors much to do in the way of stage business. However, the storytelling is clear and the characters well defined.
In the era of the #MeToo movement this story that is several thousand years old seems strangely relevant for today, dealing with such hot button topics as rape, toxic masculinity and an abusive spouse. It also explores the current interest in sisterhood. Philomela and Procne are sisters who mean everything to each other. When their father tells Procne that he is marrying her to a “local halfwit,” they flee together to a beach far from home. They move into an empty cabin; Procne learns how to fish and Philomena learns how to weave from the birds.
When Tereus, a hunter, passes by, Procne is smitten and agrees to go to his island to learn how to hunt with a bow and arrow. She tells Philomela that she will be returning soon but she becomes pregnant and Tereus has no intention of taking her back to her sister. When Philomela weaves wings and reaches the island, the brutal Tereus has other ideas than reuniting her with her sister. Narrated by Iris, the god of the rainbow and the messenger of the gods, who also contrives the happy ending of divine retribution after much pain and sorrow.
Conceived as a concert, in Woodard’s production the show remains a concept album with limited dialogue and the simple plot. The lyrics are extremely poetic and rock music engaging though less theatrical than it might be for a stage show. The small stage covered by platforms for the band does not allow for much of nicHi douglas’ choreography. However, Weightless which also includes the myth of Diana, the huntress goddess, does seem like a complete and satisfying show.
Lila Blue plays the main character with wide-eyed innocence and is the only member of the cast not to play an instrument. Josh Pollock on guitar is a sinister and malevolent Tereus. Kate Kilbane on bass is rather low-key and retiring as Procne, while Kofy Brown (percussion and bass) as the god Iris has a great deal of authority and personality. The rest of the band is made up of Dan Moses on keyboard and vocals and Dan Harris on percussion.
Most effective is the lighting design by Stacey Derosier which also uses abstract imagery on the back wall of the stage for otherworldly and astronomical effects. The story has been somewhat updated making Tereus a hunter rather than King of Thrace as in Ovid’s original. Designer Dina El-Aziz takes her cue from the modern slant by putting the characters in contemporary-looking outfits. While Joanna Lynne Staub’s sound design is generally fine, at times the orchestrations drown out the vocals.
For the record, Weighless was developed by Z Space and piece by piece productions. It first produced in San Francisco by Z Space in 2019, and then appeared at A.C.T. (San Francisco), BRIC House in Brooklyn as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in 2019 and TheaterSquared as part of the Arkansas New Play Festival. WP Theater filmed the current production show at CalShakes, an outdoor amphitheater in the Bay Area, and streamed it online May-June of 2021.
Weightless (through October 16, 2022)
WP Theater, 2162 Broadway at 77th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.todaytix.com/nyc/shows/26096-weightless
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission