Review: "Weightless" at Z Space

Jordan Nickels

  • San Francisco Critic

Straight from the San Francisco Fringe Festival, Weightless is an innovative new musical playing in one of San Francisco’s newest and most innovative theaters spaces, Z Space.  A performance combining indie-rock music, technology, and mythology; Weightless redefines what the modern musical can do by reexamining stories from the past.

Weightless is part concert, part musical theater piece, telling the story of sisters Procne and Philomela from the narrative poem Metamorphoses by Roman poet Ovid. After escaping an arranged marriage, Procne and Philomela travel to a cottage by the sea to embark on a new life on their own. A God watches them from afar as temptation tries to tear them apart.

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This production was written by The Kilbanes, an Oakland theatrical rock band consisting of the songwriting duo Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses. Not only did The Kilbanes serve as composers and writers, but also as the band in the show, as well as the actors. These musicians are incredible quadruple threats that provide a theatrical experience that the audience has never seen before. What also made this production special was the scenic design by Angrette McCloskey, along with breathtaking projections by Hana Kim, which transported this unique theater space into another world.

Credit has to be given to Kate Kilbane and Lila Blue as Procne and Philomela respectively. Kate gave Procne strength and determination, which carried the show through its darkest moments. Lila’s voice was haunting, with the raw emotion that rivaled alternative vocalists like Florence Welch and Lana Del Ray. Josh Pollock played the devious Tereus, with a powerful bass voice. Julia Brothers played the androgynous God, if a god had the swagger of a rock star and the wit of Jane Lynch. Her brashness balanced her sympathy for the sisters she watched, giving this character a complexity we don’t often see with god-like figures.

Weightless took what we understand about mythology and further examined the lessons the Greek and Romans taught through their storytelling and theater. Most Greek mythology we are familiar with shows a hero encountering a god, who has a task for them to complete to earn the god’s favor. Through this task, these individuals receive praise from the god and are offered gifts or protection. However, sometimes the gods tend to use these mortals as playthings, either falling in love with them, using them to fight their wars, or losing favor and tossing them aside. While the Greeks and Romans learned from their gods, Weightless looks at a god learning from the decisions of the mortals she oversees. What if the teacher, the all-knowing, can learn from the pupil?

The 21st century has exploded with rock musicals, many surrounding the musical library of a particular artist. Many artists become associated with these shows, but it’s rare when they become fully immersed in the creative process. The Kilbanes have created an interesting look at traditional mythology through a musical anthology that appeals to a modern audience. I describe Weightless as an emotional rollercoaster that grabs hold of the audience’s attention, which is due in part to the passion and dedication put into the show by this eclectic group of performers. Weightless is a fascinating deconstruction of the typical rock musical, with unconventional storytelling and musicality that well represents the amazing work that comes out of experimental theater. 

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.