Io: a myth about you

Monika Bustamante's updated Greek myth comes in a top-notch production that rages about like a rough sea

Arts Reviews

Io: a myth about you

The Vortex, through Nov. 10 Running time: 2 hr, 35 min

Poor Io. The lass was only out for a walk when Zeus and his lust came creeping up to her in cloud form, impregnated her, then disguised her as a heifer to avoid the ire of his jealous wife, Hera. The mighty goddess then sent a gadfly to torment the cowed Io as she fled across Egypt. And now, in Shrewd Productions' modern retelling of her myth, Io's been hurled into a seedy city sprawl full of drugs, torture, and two-timing with no memory of what she's done. Existence, both modern and mythological, has not been kind to her.

Local playwright Monika Bustamante has recreated Io in a world so immediately modern that it comes with references to Dr. Phil, Botox, and The Secret. The same story and major players from the myth are here, only it's Zell for Zeus, Theo for Prometheus, Sherm for Hermes, etc. Zell is hiding Io in a pill-popping haze, so Hera won't discover his infidelity, and is simultaneously having Theo tortured to find out who's trying to assassinate him. A strong current of desperation propels the play forward: Io wants to go home, Theo wants freedom, go-between Glenn wants to see her children, Zell wants power, the name, Io, Hera – well, Zell wants a lot of things.

Director Elena Araoz takes full advantage of the ramshackle stage to establish this anxious, off-kilter environment. The set consists of wayward wood, dilapidated stairs, and chicken wire, and characters continually pop up from new angles to keep the show visually captivating. Io: a myth about you is eye candy, really, from the stage design to the fantastic costumes full of bright colors, flashy leather, animal prints, ball gags, and raver apparel. The production captivates from start to finish – new things are continually happening, new stage pictures, zany characters, song breaks, plot shifts. Io rarely lets up. The plot races forward, but to what exactly we're unsure: Zell's assassination? A confrontation between the moody lovers? A revelation about Io's past? The story comes at intense angles but retreats before pointing us in an absolute direction; the stakes seem high, but what's being played for is hard to grasp.

Likewise, Io's characters operate in real-world settings with real-world problems but sometimes fall back into the rules and relationships of Greek mythology. Zell constantly refers to his relationship with Glenn when they were kids, for example, or chides Theo for selling "them" out by revitalizing urban areas (the equivalent of Prometheus giving man fire). So what is the point of modernizing the Io myth? Bustamante offers many reasons: how strange and savage a Greek myth actually is when its characters are humanized; what has happened to these gods and their concepts in modern times; how concepts, and not compassion, might rule us. Just like the plot, the point of Io is hard to pin down, though it seems to dance all around you. This isn't necessarily problematic – Io gives you lots of interesting ideas to ponder, and the presentation keeps you plugged in throughout. There are plenty of tense scenes and beautiful moments. But when a tied-up Io suddenly sermonizes on modern sexuality or Zell seemingly steps out of the script to ask, "Who write this thing?" it's a bit frustrating not to see Io's through-line clearly.

Beyond the visual stimulation is a strong ensemble of actors who live up to Io's intense and madcap world. Aaron Alexander has the necessary swagger and presence for dangerous cock-of-the-walk Zell, Chronicle classified account executive Andrea Skola shows great range in powering down from wicked stepmother to stricken discoverer of the play's tragic twist, and Gina Houston is a tour-de-force as the addled Glenn, dominating the stage with her crisp, powerful voice.

At times funny, disturbing, beautiful, tender, and, above all, captivating, Io: a myth about you is a top-notch production that rages about like a rough sea. Between the solid music numbers, the intense confrontations, the human moments, and the meanings of modernization, Io offers a lot to challenge you, and the journey is certainly worth taking.

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Io: a myth about you, Monika Bustamante, Shrewd Productions, Elena Araoz

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