Persephone on Persephone

Last night, Luci Furious and I had the pleasure of seeing the awesomely-named Six Seeds: The Persephone Project. The play, produced by Warner | Shaw and the Theater at the Tank in New York, is an exploration of the myth of Persephone. You may remember Mara’s piece on her participation in the project last week.

The show begins with Persephone observing what at first appears to be a support group, but is actually a conversation among the many sides of Persephone herself: Virgin, Power, Victim, Vixen, and Maternal. All of these women challenge and interact with Persephone throughout the show. A man in a white suit, who turns out to be the character of Hades, silently facilitates the group’s discussions by writing questions on a window with a marker.

Luci and I spent this morning working through and discussing the show over email (and coffee), and I’ve posted the more eloquent parts of our analysis below.

Hattie: First things first: I have a lot of notes about the theme of food in the show.

Luci: Me too. I actually wondered if the writer had an eating disorder background. I mean, the original myth is food-related too, but so much of this seemed to be “Man controlling woman with food, woman maintaining strength by not eating.” And I spent a lot of time wondering about how they had Power-Persephone as the voice of Hades, because she was so thin.

Hattie: Not to mention that the food definitely represented sex.

Luci: Yeah! Because of pomegranates being vaginas. I mean, the scene where Hades fed her the seeds was all sexy. And if you have “food as sex,” that explains why the Vixen-Persephone was the one who seemed to be encouraging her to eat, more than the others.

Hattie: True. That would also be why her mom told her not to eat: because, like sex, it’s dangerous and bad and because it would change her.

Luci: Which it did! And Demeter noticed right away.

Hattie: And it seemed to be such a big relief for Persephone when she finally did eat. She had been suffering while resisting something she really desired, just because her mom told her it was bad. There was a lot of exploration of the whole mother-daughter dynamic, and how you grow up doing what your mom tells you because you think she knows best. Persephone was just as much a prisoner of her mother as she was of Hades.

Luci: If anything her mom was more controlling”¦

Hattie: Both Hades and Demeter are so powerful that Persephone never really had a chance of standing up to either one of them. Also, on a more basic level, Demeter wanted Persephone to go back to being this innocent girl who spends all her time frolicking in a field. Kind of like how all parents wish their kids would be innocent forever.

Luci: I made a note about the part at the end, when Hades asked “How did you know you were a woman?” and I think it was Virgin-Persephone who said that being a woman means having the right to be silent.

Hattie: Well, throughout the play, people are speaking for other people. The other girls take turns standing in for Persephone, and the one [Power-Persephone] speaks as the voice of Hades.

Luci: I guess to me it spoke of a larger theme about control, including controlling when a woman can speak – as in, don’t speak until you’re spoken to, but you have to respond to someone because you have to be polite. So there are all these restrictions placed on when and how you’re allowed to communicate if you’re female.

So for Persephone, part of being a woman is retaking control over that. I’m thinking about how, for women, speaking and eating and sex all have similar restrictions. You can’t eat too much, you have to eat the right things, but you can’t not eat. You can’t have too much sex, but you have to have some sex, otherwise you’re a prude. All the same restrictions as having a voice.

Hattie: And the final scene was Persephone starting to re-write the story in the book. Maybe the significance of that is that the show was really about Persephone’s story, rather than The Story of Persephone. Seeing her as a woman with feelings and ideas and thoughts instead of a symbol.

Luci: Right. And re-integrating all the parts of herself. Because when she starts to write her story, right before the lights go out, she’s the only one on stage. She’s finally alone.

If you’d like to learn more about Warner | Shaw and Persephone Project, visit their website. The last night of the show’s current run ends tomorrow, June 11.

Photo by Emily Brandt, courtesy of Mara Leventhal

One reply on “Persephone on Persephone”

It was such fun to have Hattie and Luci in the audience last Thursday! Thank you so much for coming! I never thought about the food issues as related to eating disorders because they are so plot-specific… but since some of the original versions call Persephone Zeus’s “thin ankled daughter” then who knows… maybe there’s some not-so veiled messages about pretty girls and food there. LOVE that you can read an ancient story over and over again and still get more out of it. Thank you, Persephone!

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