Puberty, curfews, fights with parents: Adolescence is hard enough without having to face down a Gorgon. Perseus has his work cut out for him.
In the delightful new six-part audio series “Live From Mount Olympus,” a classic Greek myth is translated into a story for teens — and for adults who fancy a lively reimagining of the tales they learned in English class.
Bulfinch? Hamilton? Eat your heart out.
Presented by the Onassis Foundation and PRX’s TRAX podcast network, and produced with the Brooklyn theater ensemble TEAM, “Live From Mount Olympus” tells the tale of Perseus, the demigod hero who killed Medusa, the Gorgon with deadly peepers and a reptilian hairdo.
This Perseus, though, isn’t the macho beefcake hero often portrayed in artworks and other adaptations of the story; here, he is an eager and naïve young man just figuring out his destiny. When he can focus enough to do so, that is. Divine Garland plays the excitable demigod with boyish charm and touches of the same brand of arrogance the Greeks loved to grant their mighty male protagonists.
Perseus must travel to the far reaches of the human world to battle Medusa; good thing he’s got gods on his side. Libby King’s Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, comes off as an exasperated older sister — well, half sister, as she pointedly reminds Perseus, who is also a child of Zeus. “Let’s not get carried away, mortal,” she says, clearly irked by their kinship.
The series’ biggest treat is a crossover from another work of mythic translation: André De Shields, who was the fleet-footed Hermes in “Hadestown,” appears as the messenger god again, and also serves as the suave narrator of the tale.
Directed by Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) and Zhailon Levingston (“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”), “Mount Olympus” is an accessible entryway into mythology. Running just about 15 to 20 minutes each, the episodes (written by Alexie Basil and Nathan Yungerberg) are snappy yet satisfying; the dialogue is set at a contemporary clip, with modern-day language. “Oh my godsss,” Perseus exclaims repeatedly, like a teen running into his crush at the mall.
The grittier bits of the stories (violence, assault) are softened and maneuvered around gracefully without losing a sense of the problematic relationships and themes at work, especially when it comes to gender.
David Schulman’s appropriately cartoonish sound design rises to the pep of the action and gameness of the dialogue, like the shuffle and flutter of Hermes making a hasty exit (he has to check on his “godcast” subscribers; popularity comes with a cost). And speaking of cartoons, this may be an audio production, but Jason Adam Katzenstein — whose often punny, sometimes droll and always comic illustrations make regular appearances in The New Yorker — provides eye-catching art for each episode.
Perseus isn’t the only classic hero who’s gotten a teen makeover; theater makers have already been using Greek myths to appeal to this demographic. “The Lightning Thief,” based on Rick Riordan’s popular YA “Percy Jackson” series, targeted younger audiences on Broadway when it opened in September 2019. That same month, Public Works premiered “Hercules,” based on the 1997 Disney animated movie.
Between the rivalries and the affairs, it’s everything tweens catch between the morning bell and sixth period, with the added bonus of fantastical landscapes and magical happenings. But there is also heft to these stories, which represent a belief system and vision of the world that no longer exists as a reality for a community of people, but nevertheless survives.
So why not try on a pair of winged sandals and venture to a “cavern of serpent doom” as this young hero does? Grab your phone, too, in case you want to drop a quick TikTok with some nymphs on the way. Just be back by 10 p.m.: When in the heavenly realm of Mount Olympus, the worst thing you can do is get grounded.
Live From Mount Olympus
New episodes through March 23; onassis.org.
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