MARCH 2018

(reposted from sfchronicle.com)

To get a glimpse of the future of theater in 2018, look to a 2,000-year-old myth. In “Weightless,” Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” might have found its most expansive translation yet: from Latin into rock opera.

The translation in language entails an inviting transformation of Z Space,where the world premiere by the Kilbanes (married rock band duo Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses) opened Wednesday, Feb. 28, in a co-production with Piece by Piece Productions. Gone is the auditorium seating. In its place is an intimate thrust stage, a sort of ramp that spills into the audience, surrounded by just a few risers and cabaret tables. Call it the Bay Area’s coolest underground club that your friends haven’t heard of yet.

This is theater as concert, complete with a bar you can visit throughout the show and a warm-up act (Misner and Smith on opening night). In the show itself, the rock musicians enact scenes as they play; patter among soaring anthems, tremulous ballads and moaning requiems becomes propulsive narrative.

The rearrangement of the theater makes it easier for a god (Julia Brothers, who conjures divinity from a glam ensemble by Christine Crook, with Ziggy Stardust hair and an androgynous suit) to walk among the audience as she narrates. Her tale follows sisters Procne (Kilbane) and Philomela (Lila Blue, who’s just 17), whose otherworldly, unflagging bond pulls them back together after Procne runs off with the intriguing but menacing Tereus (Josh Pollock).

Part of the whole ennobling vision of “Weightless,” which is directed by Becca Wolff, is that gods walk among us, our humblest endeavors of infinite fascination to them, spurring their capricious interference. Even at our lowest, quietest, most isolated — tortured and silenced — we are mysteries to immortals, who can see but can’t grasp our ambitions and desires, the way we toil so long at ends so far away, so inconvenient. To watch this show is to be reanimated with a childlike sense that our choices have magical origins and magical ripple effects.

But the Kilbanes elevate humanity still further. Unlike in Ovid, the gods don’t have all the power here. We can resist their machinations. We can sober their play. Our capacity for true feeling is more profound, more powerful than any spell they might cast.

Harmonizing, Kilbane and Blue blend their feathery voices as perfectly as if they were the twin channels of a single stereo. Reverb on the guitar often carries the echo one step further; you get the sense that the Kilbanes could fly endlessly into space on a single, hypnotically executed chord.

Blue’s lovely timbre has a delicate surface warble whose every note whispers of fathomless depths below. Though often rooted in place with her bass, Kilbane finds creative ways to make her lines dynamic — blurting them out, then gulping in surprise at what came out of her mouth. Pollock on the guitar opens the show with a sweeping solo that would make for a complete theatrical experience. He’s a musician as showman athlete, leaping and kicking and then carving out a millisecond of a break, as if to jokingly suggest that his own prowess is too much for him to bear.

Lyrics wring gorgeous sentiment from deceptively simple words: “Your heart is my home.” That might be the show’s ultimate message from humans to gods. “You’re really only connected to reality by a few threads,” Brothers’ god says of Philomela, with an understated mix of sympathy, curiosity, disdain and threat. But the human heart, says “Weightless,” is tireless, ever capable of weaving new ties from the thinnest of fibers.

Lily Janiak is The San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. Email: ljaniak@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LilyJaniak


December 2016

(reposted from SFChronicle.com) “Weightless”: I have believed in the Kilbanes’ rock epic about the sisters Procne and Philomela (of Greek myth, and of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”) since it premiered at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2012. Its surprising melodies have been stuck in my head since then, as has its haunting tale of two sisters whose bond with each other and whose dreams for themselves persist over distance and, in a poetic way, beyond death. The bandmates, led by the wife-and-husband team of Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses, are also the actors, and even though their instruments restrict their movement, the acting they accomplish with just facial and vocal expression makes their characters rich and deeply felt. This year, the show’s momentum has grown, with two concert performances at Z Space; hopefully the Bay Area can support another chapter in the new year.


November 2014

(reposted from americantheatre.org) Bassist/vocalist Kate Kilbane’s work focuses on the musicians—who are also the actors—and the music they play is catchy, ecstatic rock. But the Kilbanes, her Oakland-based band, are mesmerizing mainly because Kilbane capitalizes on the theatricality of the live concert form and the performative joy of virtuoso musicians at play. Never abandoning their instruments (they narrate and converse as they play between-song fills), the Kilbanes maintain their rock-star cool while staying in character. Writing with her husband, bandmate Dan Moses, Kilbane adapts myths—like that of Procne and Philomela in Weightless or Medea in The Medea Cycle—because she’s interested in worlds where fantastical transformations, like a woman turning into a bird, are natural, even expected. In Eddie the Marvelous, Who Will Save the World, her next show, now in development at Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, she delves into a living myth: David Bowie. 


January 2013

(reposted from sfweekly.com)
The undisputed hit of this year's Fringe, Weightless, by Kate Kilbane and the Cellar Doors, was less fringy than gleaming from all its professional polish, forecasting its full production planned for 2014. The show, an adaptation of the Greek myth of Procne and Philomela, is a rock opera -- not quite a rock concert, not quite a musical; performers are at once band mates and actors. Kilbane's original, genre-defying songs are both catchy and musically interesting -- an unfortunate rarity in contemporary theater. Her performance required neither set nor costume nor movement to be counted among the most dramatic shows we've seen all year.