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STAGE REVIEW

‘Prometheus’ rocks in epic fashion

Gavin Creel, as Prometheus, endures the wrath of Zeus in a modern version of the 2,500-year-old classic, while Celina Carvajal, the daughter of the ocean, lends a sympathetic ear. Gavin Creel, as Prometheus, endures the wrath of Zeus in a modern version of the 2,500-year-old classic, while Celina Carvajal, the daughter of the ocean, lends a sympathetic ear. (Marcus Stern for The Globe)
By Sandy MacDonald
Globe Correspondent / March 5, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE — One thing you ought to know beforehand about “Prometheus Bound,’’ a brand-new rock opera based on a 2,500-year-old Greek drama, is that it is mind-numbingly loud. If you’re among the young patrons who have come to Oberon (American Repertory Theatre’s perma-club near Harvard Square) to relive your mosh-pit phase with some head-banging and fist-pumping, no problem: You’re probably already hearing-impaired, anyway. If, being somewhat more sedate, you spring for premium table seating, not to worry either: In deference to older, more affluent eardrums, the management has set out earplugs.

Steven Sater’s lyrics come at you so hard and fast it can be hard to make them out — but again, no cause for concern. Slowly, thrashing chord by chord (with spates of enchantingly imagistic dialogue thrown in), Sater, the creator of “Spring Awakening,’’ starts to sketch in a cohesive scenario.

Prometheus (“Hair’’ star Gavin Creel, magnificent torso bared) has attracted the wrath of Zeus by endowing humans with fire, thus impeding the über-god’s plan to wipe out the whole sorry mess. As punishment, a cadre of thuggish demigods led by Force (butch-and-proud jazz diva Lea DeLaria) descend on him and chain him to a rock.

Out comes the by now de rigueur Abu Ghraib-style black hood (an emblematic garment racking up impressive stage mileage), and just as you brace yourself for the standard shock tactics, the mood shifts. In flit three strapping young “daughters of the aether,’’ who lend their sometimes silken, sometimes shrieking voices along with a sympathetic ear. The water god Oceanos (Michael Cunio, in “Clockwork Orange’’ mode) also professes outrage, but given the ineluctability of fate (not to mention his obvious reluctance to meet a similar one), he has little to offer by way of practical assistance. “Know yourself’’ is his wan, evasive advice.

It’s not until Io (fiery-voiced Uzo Aduba) wanders in, dazed with pain and suffering from a comparable curse, that the play becomes truly grounded in recognizable human emotion. Well, not strictly human: Having been violently raped by Zeus, Io, a mortal maiden, has been transformed into a cow and further afflicted by Hera, his jealous wife, with a relentless stinging gadfly. Tortured to the brink of suicide, Io finds succor at Prometheus’s side. He confides to her a prophecy that gives her the strength to go on — but incenses Zeus all the more.

Hermes (Gabe Ebert, affecting a preppy insouciance) appears to ferret out Prometheus’s secret. However, silence — a deafening version thereof — proves a good match for godly omnipotence.

ART artistic director Diane Paulus developed the Prometheus Project as a tribute to and fund-raiser for Amnesty International. If this raucous riff on a classic manages to channel the innate hedonism of youth toward a good cause — one that’s especially salient now, given world events and our own country’s shameful recent history with regard to human rights — more power to it.

Sandy MacDonald can be reached at sandy@sandymacdonald.com

PROMETHEUS BOUND

With script and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Serj Tankian, based on Aeschylus

Directed by Diane Paulus

Set, Riccardo Hernandez.

Costumes, Emily Rebholz.

Lighting, Kevin Adams.

Sound, Clive Goodwin.

Produced by the American Repertory Theatre through April 2.

Tickets: $25-65. 617-547-8300, www.americanrepertorytheatre.org.