Actors rehearse in March at CalArts for the production of "Prometheus… (Scott Groller/CalArts…)
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The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades boasts a magnificent collection of ancient art in a replica of a Roman Villa, but this summer the biggest sculpture on display will be a creation from 2013: a 23-foot-tall, five-ton steel wheel that will be the centerpiece of an avant-garde production of the ancient drama “Prometheus Bound.”
The play, believed to have had its premiere around 450 B.C., depicts the suffering of the titan Prometheus, who’s been chained by the vengeful gods to a remote mountain. His transgression: teaching humanity the use of fire and other civilizing skills that had been the exclusive property of the gods themselves.
The wheel represents the mountain. Prometheus, played by Ron Cephas Jones in the production that begins previews Aug. 29, will spend the bulk of the evening strapped to it, on a smaller wheel that traverses the gigantic one like a hand on a clock or a gondola on a Ferris wheel.
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Fortunately for the actor, he won’t be turned upside down, and he’ll have company from other performers who’ll clamber onto the wheel.
Vinny Golia, a noted L.A. jazz musician, will add live instrumentals, performing original music he composed with Ellen Reid.
The setpiece was conceived by director Travis Preston and scenic designer Efren Delgadillo Jr. for the production, which is being presented by the California Institute of the Arts’ Center for New Performance in conjunction with Trans Arts and the Getty Museum. The script is poet Joel Agee’s new translation of the ancient Greek text, which is commonly attributed to Aeschylus, although that’s a matter of scholarly dispute.
Preston, who’s dean of CalArts’ School of Theater, said in an announcement of the show and its centerpiece that, in addition to serving as Prometheus’ mountain, the wheel is meant to carry symbolic and thematic freight: “the wheel embodies a dense layer of imagery and metaphor, referencing medieval clocks, the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma, the zodiac, and a Catherine Wheel, among other symbols.”
Its engineer is Mark Odom of DAS Design Works; CalArts technical design students led by master’s degree candidate Bill Honigstein did the assembly with help from LA ProPoint, a fabricator of theme park rides and specialized performing arts machinery, including the motorized above-the-stage rigging and acoustical panels at the Hollywood Bowl.
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Flying By Foy, a Las Vegas-based company that specializes in stage flight, trained the cast in safely negotiating Prometheus' "mountain," which will sometimes be in motion during the performance.
The wheel is currently in storage, to be trucked in pieces to the Getty Villa in time for a mid-July re-assembly on the plaza in front of the entrance to the main museum building -- which also serves as the playing space for the outdoor Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater. From then until at least Sept. 28, when the show is scheduled to close, it will be an added sight for museum-goers.
“It’s almost like a contemporary art installation. We’re definitely excited,” said Laurel Kishi, the Getty Museum’s performing arts manager.