For centuries, women have been portrayed as weak and easily fooled, tempted by forbidden acts and fruit. What has not been asked, however, is why? What led them to these apparently unseemly decisions? UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, or TDPS, attempts to answer these questions with its production of Madeline Sayet’s “Daughters of Leda.”
In taking on this daunting task, the play successfully blends drama, mythology and comedy together to bring a message of female empowerment to life. “Daughters of Leda” reveals heart-breaking scenes in which experiences of domestic violence and sexual assault have been warped to place blame on notable characters, such as Helen of Troy (Sophia Partain) and Leda (Haley Ruth Spencer). However, the play tactfully weaves in moments of humor and mystery to provide the audience with intentional moments of relief from the pain of these women.
Of particular note is Maria Seiple’s standout performance as both Hades and the Satanic Snake. With overly accentuated movements and quick snipes back at the Fates, who drive her mad, Seiple gives viewers a moment to breathe between the deep-cutting conversations about the condemned women. Her raised eyebrows, flame-covered suit and vigorous dance steps as the snake completely sell the role.
Thematically, the intertwining vilification of women in Christianity and Greek mythology points to the interesting idea of unity amongst these stories. Just as Eve has been admonished for centuries for desiring something more than the Garden of Eden, regardless of her circumstance, so too has Persephone been brought down for tasting the pomegranate seeds, irrespective of her own desires. Though these are individual narratives, they both serve the singular purpose of oppressing women.
Taking an innovative approach to scene changes, “Daughters of Leda” uses choreography, such as haunting dances of the Three Fates, to remind viewers of the somber and intense moments taking place. In doing so, the play keeps audiences engaged in its emotionality, not letting members’ minds wander away.
The ingenuity displayed in the play extends beyond scene changes into special effects. From a hazy black screen that shows the story of Leda’s downfall to the stunning synchronization between spell-casting sound effects and the characters’ movements, these additions help bring life to the play.
While “Daughters of Leda” offers a fresh perspective on centuries of mythology and creatively keeps audiences engaged, there are two glaring issues. First, the play feels jumbled and discombobulated at its start, with confusion arising about why Alex (Ítarala Gamboa Cayetaño García) is on a journey to search for her mother — as well as what her mysterious accompanying puppet represents. Ultimately, it takes until the final 30 minutes for the story to fully come together and see how individual story lines weave together. In part, the confusion arises from the lack of explanation in transitions. So focused on capturing the sentiment in the play, the script occasionally forgets to let audiences in on what is happening.
Additionally, while the climax and falling action could have used more time to unpack the deeper message about the characters writing their own fates, “Daughters of Leda” spends too much time in the middle with the women squabbling back and forth and Alex wandering in the depths of the Underworld. Had this part been done more succinctly, it would have better captured viewers attention, rather than feel dragged out.
The strings of fate become intertwined in this play as the oppressed mythological women finally come to terms with who they are and learn to confide in each other — and ultimately choose their own fate. With the final snip of the “web of fate,” “Daughters of Leda” sends an extremely powerful message, even engaging with the audience to find their own path.