At the end of each Winter, the Greek goddess Persephone, queen of the Underworld, is said to break against the darkness of her stygian surroundings and bring forth the Spring. The beauty of this annual event perhaps could be hailed as a work of art. Reality TV isn’t really an accurate reflection of reality. These somewhat unrelated thoughts are put together as the themes of Persephone’s Prerogative written and directed by Kyla Norton, playing as part of FringeNEXT.
The premise is a reality TV show called “Battle or Go Broke.” Host, Julia (Tess Grewling) and her cameraman (Cameron Baker) are preparing for their broadcast. Julia learns from her father, who happens to also be the producer of the show, that if the ratings for that night are not adequate, the show, and their jobs, will be cut.
On the other side of the matter are the subjects of that evenings’s show: two unsuspecting actresses who believe they have shown up for an audition, but are really being secretly filmed. Ann (Kaitlyn Funck) comes from a well-off family and bears a refined carriage. Meryl (Kitty Davies) comes from a working class family, raised by her Latina mother. The hope is that the differing personalities and backgrounds of the two will lead to an interesting conflict for all those viewers out there.
The problem of the play arises when a reality TV producer’s worst nightmare comes true the subject actresses don’t blow up at each other, instead engaging in considerations of the nature of art and Greek mythology. Where is the entertainment in that? Julia is forced to decide how she will handle her enraged father/producer and the mounting catastrophe.
This interesting set-up exploring both complex motifs and an easily-roasted area of popular culture is evidence that creativity is Norton, and Persephone’s forte. Practical execution of the concept proves to be a bit more of a challenge. Yet, though at times the dialogue feels stiff, witty remarks such as Julia’s mention of a thirty minute long commercial break provide amusement. The script does leave us with a number of practical questions, however, such as why a reality TV show would be airing live as it was being filmed, despite references made to editing parts out or why the actresses stick out waiting for their presumed audition as long as they do.
Like the execution of the script’s originality, the onstage performances tend to fall a bit flat. Nevertheless, Baker gives an energetic performance, some nice moments are created between Funck and Davies’s actresses, and Grewling’s Julia grants us an emotional display in her exchanges with her father and subsequent choices.
All in all, Persephone’s Prerogative provides a unique look into this imagined world of reality TV as well as some deeper and important artistic questions. Perhaps only one answer is clearly given, however: Whatever art is, it is not reality television.
By: Richard Lowenburg