What is it about Greek mythology that continues to inspire young artists, from Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver’s “Jasper in Hadestown” to Anaïs Mitchell’s Tony-winning hit “Hadestown”? The enduring power of these stories, and the chance to recast them through a more modern lens, shines through in “Weightless,” a haunting and entertaining new indie-rock musical that opened Thursday at Off Broadway’s WB Theater.
Creators Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses, the husband-wife duo behind the Bay Area band the Kilbanes, benefit from choosing a lesser known myth that’s ripe for center stage at Lilith Fair. Procne (Kilbane) and Philomela (Lila Blue) are mortal sisters who are separated when Procne — despite a series of bright-red flags — marries a hunter named Tereus (Josh Pollock) who takes her to distant island. Before long, the story leads to rape and disfigurement — and the ultimate intervention of a sarcastic goddess named Iris (Kofy Brown) who ultimately transforms the sisters into birds who can finally sing their truths.
But the show also gets its biggest lift from the Kilbanes’ thumpingly melodic score, with hooks that will be stuck in your head for days. And as the sisters at the center of the drama, Kilbane and Blue achieve that rare, magical harmonic blending of voices in duets like “Breath and Your Bones” that convinces you in an instant of the depth of their sisterly bond.
Director Tamilla Woodard stages the show as a concert version of this concept album — think of an Off Broadway black-box version of an Encores! production — with Pollock doubling on guitar, Kilbane on bass and Brown on percussion. (Moses supplies keyboard and vocals, while Dan Harris is on the drum set.)
Given how close Kilbane is to the score, and how strong she is as an instrumentalist, the simple staging really works — underscoring in some ways the mythic nature of the material in a way that a more literal approach to acting out the story might not.
What are the mythic characters, after all, but rock stars, templates on which we can project our own longings and insecurities?