Acme Unchained

Liberating The Classics.

As written in The Boston Phoenix June 23, 1995

by: Matt Ashare

"We're not trying to do art, we're just trying to bring theater up to like 1980, if not 1990," explains Acme Theatr provocateur D.W. Ferranti. Earlier this month Acme staged a production of its original rock play Prometheus Bound - Hercules Unchained!! at the Landsdowne Street Playhouse. The production, which was written by Ferranti and James Felix McKenney, drew on the original Greek myth and drama but updated it with clever. pseudo-Shakespearean prose, colorful characters based in part on Marvel superheroes, and anthemic rock songs penned by Bim Skala Bim's Jim Jones, and performed by his side project. Joint Chiefs. Nobody showed to see the first weekend of Prometheus. Then word got out that a group of local rock-scenesters were staging something more than a marginal, hap-hazard goof on a Greek classic-they were running a genuinely smart, funny, and irreverent production that wasn't, well, painful to sit through as long as youdidn't mind Brechtian atmosphere. (The bar was open, and ashtrays filled with "Property of Zeus" matchbooks were placed on tables in the audience, though Captain America urged no smoking at the start of the show.) The cast played to full, enthusiastic houses the next weekend, and the Lansdowne is considering bringing Prometheus back this fall. "The idea is to make theater that's viable for people who normally hate theater," explains Winston Bramen, a local musician in the band Fuzzy who played the half-woman/half-goat object of Zeus's affection in the production "Yeah," Jones interjects, "I remember learning that theater was supposed to be entertainment What's wrong with bringing people into a bar to see a play? People can go and see bands all the time, and there's nothing wrong with that -I've made a living out of it for 10 years But this is another option that's just as entertaining. " Acme got its start seven years ago performing short plays between bands at the Middle East and longer works at loft parties and other alternative venues 'Out of boredom and disgust with the general state of theater at traditional venu,s we decided to do plays in clubs," Ferranti says "I mean, why not put theater in a format where young people will go to see it the same way they go to see bands?" The repertoire included everything from modern classics by Chekhov to pop-culture kitsch like Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster. But it was a 1993 production of Dickens's A Christmas Carol that defined the group's mission in terms of an idiosyncratic medium Ferranti has termed the "rock play" He explains, "I hate musicals, so I hate to call what we do musicals. And they're not really rock operas, either They're plays with rock songs and real dialogue A Christmas Carol was something of a happy accident As Ferranti recounts, I accepted some dates to stage something at the Middle East in December of '93, but I didn't have anything solid planned. I had wanted to do a version of A Christmas Carol. Every time anybody does a stage version of A Christmas Carol, Dickens's prose is pretty much ignored and only the dialogue is used. So I used phrasings and descriptions in the prose to write songs Lyrics. " The genesis of Prometheus was, according to Ferranti, somewhat more complicated "I did the final scene from Prometheus Bound for a directing class at U.Mass Boston about five years ago I played up Hermes as a mafia hitman and Prometheus as a stoolie And then I saw the Oresteia at the ART and, I know this might piss some people off, but quite frankly I thought it sucked. It made all the mistakes that people make when they're trying to modernize a classic They had these ancient Greek characters speaking lofty prose and then, they'd say something like 'son of a bitch ' to make it modern "It hit me that the characters in Promotheus all had the fate of the universe in their hands, they're ultra-powerful warriors, they're people from myth and legend So why not ap- proach them like modern comic-book superheroes? It seemed like.: it would have more resonance than just having somebody say, 'son of a bitch ' Playing up the fact that these guys have superpowers adds a certain excitement-I knew that we'd have to have a fight scene." Acme will be bringing Prometheus, fight and all, back to a local venue this fall The company is working on plans to produce the play in Portland and on Martha's Vineyard over the summer In the meantime, Ferranti and his crew are searching for a new victim "I've been thinking about doing a series of shorts based on urban legends, like the tale of the poodle in the microwave We've also always wanted to do a version of Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly. And I'd like to continue ripping through the classics We've done Dickens and the Greeks, so it may be time for a rock version of Macbeth. Then again, even though we've already done Dickens, the actor in me is dying to play Fagin in Oliver Twist. "We could," quips McKenney, "call it Oliver 's twisted Sister. "