Persephone is based on the Greek Tragedy with Japanese Kabuki staging. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, keeps a watchful eye over her daughter Persephone, who has unwittingly captured the heart of Hades, the king of the underworld. When Demeter learns that the two lovers are to wed and live in the underworld, she vows to have her revenge by neglecting all of the living creatures of the earth. Zeus, the king of the gods, intercedes with a compromise, but Demeter’s resolve cannot be broken. This play also includes added materials including improvisation and acting exercises, a project for students, Greek and Japanese topics and questions for discussion and research. You can find these other fantastic plays by August Mergelman in our Script Library: Spider Besider, Fancy Nancy & the Ants, The Magpies, By Jove, A Merry Interlude at Camelot, Mum’s the Word, The Vixen, Couth, Pantalone’s New Pantalones, The Honest Impostor, The Weaver Girl & the Cowherd, The Dragon & the Pearl, Polly Peachum & the Pirates, Lady Scottish Play, Penny from Heaven, The Cat Noir, Trade Trade Secrets, Jackie & the Beans Talk, North Paws.
As a playwright, August Mergelman has one simple goal: to bring classical works to the modern audience. It seems that so many of the world’s great dramas are obscured by their own magnitude. August does not believe that any of history’s great playwrights would truly want their works to be intimidating or bewildering. First and foremost, they were showman; they crafted their works to be engaging, challenging, and most importantly, entertaining. As a fourth-generation Colorado native, August is proud of his western heritage, which is manifest in several of his western settings. His works have been featured in the Playwrights’ Showcase of the Western Region and the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association’s Playwriting Competition.
Excerpt from the play:
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Athena — Goddess of Wisdom
Demeter — Goddess of the Harvest
Persephone — Goddess of Spring
Apollo — God of the Sun
Artemis — Goddess of the Moon
Hades — God of the Dead
Zeus — King of the Gods
Hera — Goddess of Marriage
Hermes — Messenger of the Gods
Eros — God of Love
Nymphs (3+) — the chorus; servants to the gods
Stagehands (2+) — visible to the audience; perform special effects
(The action begins in an open meadow.)
(Demeter wanders across the stage, her heart heavy with concern. Athena enters left.)
I thought that I might find you here.
This is Persephone’s favorite spot—wild flowers in bloom and expansive views in every direction.
And you were hoping to find her here.
I know what you are thinking, and I do not care to hear any more of it. Why should a mother not look after her daughter?
Because the arrows of Eros cannot be thwarted forever, Demeter.
I am not so sure of that. I warded off the advances of Hermes deftly enough.
But love’s arrows become more aggressive in the face of resistance. Likewise, your daughter’s hopeful suitors may become less desirable, at least in your esteem.
If that is what you have come here to tell me, you have done so.
I came here to show you something in this reflection.
(Athena holds up her shield, and Demeter stares into it. On another part of the stage, Eros enters right with pomegranates and strikes a characteristic pose.)
Why, that is just Eros at play, piercing the hearts of pomegranates for practice.
Nay. It is Eros in earnest, for each of those pomegranates is now potent with love’s enchantment.
(She stops looking at the shield. Eros exits right.)
So? I shall have to tell her of such trickery.
Would she heed your words as a warning or as an invitation? She is curious about new sensations, and everyone knows how Persephone is fond of cultivating the fruits and the flowers of the earth.
Well, then, wise Athena, what would you advise me do?
As little as possible, for you know better than I that a tree must be protected in its infancy, but allowed to flourish, unrestrained, in its maturity. To hamper its development is to invite discord.
I thank you for your concern, and you know that I respect your wisdom, but for the present, Athena, I wish to be left alone.
Very well. I have delivered the words that you needed to hear. The rest, I leave to you. (Exits left.)
(Hesitates, then crosses to center and raises her arms.) Nymphs of the meadow, I require your presence.
(Nymphs enter through the audience. Sound effect—delicate, airy music. Throughout the play, the Nymphs may speak individually or in unison.)
We are here. We are ready to serve you. Your will is our own.
I suspect that Persephone will be here before long. You must serve as my eyes and my ears. If there is any danger lurking, alert me at once.
As you wish.
(Demeter exits left. With a bit of chanting and dancing, the Nymphs position themselves on the stage. Hades, Eros, and Persephone enter right. They reenact the following events as the Nymphs explain.)
We have also been summoned by Hades, the king of the dead…
But we are not to tell Demeter of his plan. The goddess does not know that several days ago, while he was peering through a spring that emanates from deep within his own domain, he saw of the face of fair Persephone. Precisely when he did, a wayward arrow strayed from Eros, and it pierced the heart of Hades. Now, he loves Persephone. In the darkness, he lurks. He is scheming to capture the beautiful maid, but we Nymphs are forbidden to tell other gods of his sinister plan.
(Eros and Hades exit right.)
(Becomes aware of the Nymphs.) You are either here to help me tend to the flowers, or you are serving as spies for my mother. Your silence answers my question. Still, I insist that you tell me. What were her exact instructions to you?
We are her eyes and ears. Should danger come to you, we are to let her know.
She forgets that I possess power, too, but as I cannot contradict my mother’s orders to you, I shall make them more specific. If you are serving as her eyes and ears, you do not need to alert her unless there is danger, and I shall appoint myself judge of that matter. If I feel threatened, I shall say so.
To serve you, we’re obliged.
(Recede into the background. Whenever they speak again, they may step forward.)
(Studies the sky.) This is an unusual day, indeed—both the sun and the moon, Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, sharing the sky. Respectively, they are the left and right eyes of the Heavens.
A dark, foreboding cloud across the heavens creeps, but which will it conceal, Apollo or his sister Artemis? Perhaps, the sun. Perhaps, the moon. The answer lies below. Persephone decides.
(Apollo enters right and Artemis enters left. They strike characteristic poses. In the style of a kabuki mie, Stagehands present their costumes to the audience.)
Confidence, reason, restraint of one’s emotions, truth, and peace of mind.
Mystery, darkness, the thrill of discovery, unbridled passion.
Persephone approached the moon with just a step, and then another step. In that direction, she continued.
(Persephone begins to cross left. The stagehands slowly conceal Apollo with a cloth.)
As she did, the clouds began to block Apollo’s watchful eye.
(Apollo exits right, and Artemis exits left. The stagehands unfurl and undulate a piece of cloth that represents the ground. Sound effect—quiet sounds BUILD TO a clamorous climax.)
In the distance, a rumble was heard, like the faraway thunder of Zeus. As the tremor grew stronger and louder, Persephone fell to her knees. A crevasse had divided the ground. The new crevasse revealed a cave, in which sat the silhouetted form of Hades, in disguise.
(Hades enters in disguise via a trapdoor or special effect. Using the same cloth, the stagehands create a cave around him. When he strikes a characteristic pose, sound effect—a low, ominous sound.)
At first, the goddess felt an apprehension. Still, her curiosity compelled her to persist. No trace of malice in his grin did she perceive.
Who are you?
I am a spirit from below. The tremors of Hephaestus, forging the armor of the gods, have brought our two worlds together. Will you join me in my shelter?