Julia Stiles returns to theatrical roots

Last Updated: Oct 29, 2010, 20:49 PM IST

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 multi-episode guest turn on Showtime`s "Dexter" -- to return to her experimental theatre roots.

Starring in the title role of "Persephone," being presented through October 30 by the Ridge Theatre, where she started as a child actress, the talented 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 ingénue 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.

Bureau Report