The Devout, a new show from Transatlantic Love Affair, centers on a community of warriors who challenge but support one another, subsuming ego to the success of the group. It’s an apt metaphor for the theater company itself, which draws its uniquely enthralling power from a deeply collaborative ethos.
Director Isabel Nelson was inspired by the myth of Medusa—not the part we all know, where the snake-haired Gorgon is slain by Perseus, but her origin story. As Ovid tells it, Poseidon raped the once-beautiful Medusa in a temple, and Athena took her anger out on the victim by turning Medusa into a monster.
Medusa and Poseidon don’t have roles in The Devout, but the tale does center on a group of warrior priestesses (yes, Xena fans, this is the play for you) who live together in Athena’s temple. While the goddess remains elusive, her acolytes’ tasks are very concrete.
In the company’s usual style, The Devout is told using only actors on a bare stage, with no set but their own bodies and no sound but their own voices with the live accompaniment of multi-instrumentalist Walken Schweigert, who’s crafted an otherworldly, often unsettling score that helps transport us to ancient times.
Transatlantic Love Affair has honed this physical theater technique to a fine art. The performers direct your attention so confidently, and in the context of such strongly imagined stories, that you might find yourself forgetting there’s no set there. You can see that precarious bridge to the temple, and you recoil from the snakes whose fangs the warriors have to “milk” to poison their arrows.
Once the setting is established, the plot turns on the conflict between a confident newcomer (Siddeeqah Shabazz) and the High Priestess (Adelin Phelps), who feels threatened by the younger woman’s popularity and power. The warriors are powerful, but they still face external threats from men who prowl just beyond the temple grounds. The High Priestess wants to protect her community... but she also wants to protect her own power.
The compact cast of six women work a marvel, portraying a bustling community in an epic mountain setting using only their own bodies. Actors including Cristina Florencia Castro and Allison Witham create refreshing moments of character comedy as they welcome Shabazz to the temple, though the switch in tone from high fantasy to chatty cafeteria can be a little jarring.
Shabazz is resolute but warm, while Phelps is deliciously icy as a leader who projects strength to hide her insecurities. There’s a lot of discussion regarding who can hear the voice of Athena—when really, the women ultimately realize, they just need to listen to each other.
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Through February 17; 612-339-4944