A stylish romp in the underworld with ‘Daughters of Leda’ at AU

Professionally directed by Shanara Gabrielle and Angelisa Gillyard, American University actors mash up mythologies to a sharply funny and insightful effect.

Who owns our stories? Informs them? Challenges them?
You can’t let one story someone else wrote about you control your stories
It’s time they start telling their own stories.

Free will or fate? Or, more specifically, in this spirited, avant-garde production of Daughters of Leda by Madeline Sayet at the Studio Theatre in American University’s Katzen Arts Center, who controls our stories—us, or the patriarchal gods like Zeus or Hades?

Professionally directed by Shanara Gabrielle and Angelisa Gillyard, this production featuring American University student actors mashes up mythologies to a sharply funny and insightful effect. Alex (soon to be revealed as Eve) meets up with Adam in the underworld as she searches for her mother. Lucille Rieke is a delight to watch as she slowly unravels her origin story and romps through the underworld with a reluctant Adam, played with poetic grace by Simon Huynh.

The Fates (Cut, Measure, and Spin) played by Jae K. Gee, Rachel Wiese, and Megan Kempton in ‘Daughters of Leda.’ Photo by Dylan Singleton.

However, Adam and Eve are not the only ones in the underworld seeking answers. Persephone, played with gusto by Kate Lurie, is challenging Hades (a fabulous big-mouthed Finn Fairfield) and the Fates, here a stylish, wise-cracking trio, on who gets to tell their stories.

Leda, played with verve by Sara Wiser, and a fiery Helen of Troy (Zoe Babbit) and Electra (Emma Altrichter) are among the dead who must now tell their own stories. However, it’s Sirra Faal’s tempestuous, scene-stealing performance as Clytemnestra, who, in her grief and trauma over her relationship with her mother, Leda, brings this production to its emotional zenith.

The co-directors fully command the 22-person strong cast. The evocative set design by Sophia Tepermeister, along with the audio/sound design by AU student Ethan Coillis, and lighting by Yannick Godts, immerses the audience in an off-off-Broadway theater experience—white roots frame the floor, the strings of fate swing down, and the metal ladders are fixed as if one could climb out of Hades. The black box theater is transformed into a storytelling, secret-revealing, truth-telling underworld.

The cast of ‘Daughters of Leda.’ Photo by Dylan Singleton.

The costumes, particularly for the demigoddesses, range from the sultry to the flowingly Grecian to the temptingly bold on Helen of Troy and the murderous Electra; credit to Stephanie Parks, a professional costume designer, for the creative style mix.

“We’re taking our stories back,” exclaims Persephone near the end, as free will triumphs over fate, as the matriarchy wins over the patriarchy, as stories are reclaimed.

Once upon a time, the entire cast responds, ending where most stories begin.

Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

Daughters of Leda plays through November 4, 2023, at 8 p.m. and November 4 at 2 p.m. presented by the American University Department of Performing Arts performing at the Studio Theatre, Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($10–$15; free for AU students with an ID) are available online.


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