What if the characters from the classic literature we all read about in school suddenly found themselves in the modern world and had to make their way among cars, technology and corporate America?
And it gets even more complicated if those characters are not humans, but goddesses.
Such is the premise of “String,” Village Theatre’s all-new musical making its world premiere on Thursday, March 15. With a script by Sarah Hammond and music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, the musical combines Greek mythology with contemporary romance.
The three fates, Clotho (Sara Porkalob), Lachesis (Lauren Du Pree) and Atropos (Jessica Skerritt), are responsible for, respectively, spinning, measuring and cutting the thread of life. But when the trio of sisters angers Zeus, they are sent to the modern world as punishment. In a cubicled office of an Empire State Building-esque skyscraper in a city very much resembling New York, they carry out their work in determining the birth, length and end date of every human life. But when Atropos begins to fall in love with a human working in the same building, she must reconcile her feelings with the truth that, one day, she will have to cut the string of his life.
Hammond, who is based in Brooklyn, discovered a passion for ancient Greek literature early in life, reading “D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Mythology” as a child. Though enchanted by all of the deities, it was not the more well-known figures, such as Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite or Athena, who spoke to her the most.
“The fates got stuck in my brain,” she said.
When a New York City director asked her to write a play based on Greek myths, Hammond immediately turned to the three goddesses who did not receive their own specific story in Greek mythology. She explored the idea of creating, managing and ending the string of life as a day job in the corporate environment of a modern city. Then Hammond put the play away as she focused on other productions.
It wasn’t until Hammond and Gwon met one another in a playwriting workshop and the two became friends that they pursued the idea of setting Hammond’s play to music.
“Sarah had a career as a playwright, then she met me and I lured her over to the dark side of musical theater,” Gwon laughed.
Gwon said that the two “took a shine to each other’s work” due to their skilled character-building abilities.
“Sarah creates imaginative characters — real humans, it feels like they live in this world,” he said. Yet, the characters are also “slightly magical.”
“They’re funny, eccentric, they felt so real — I instantly saw the possibility to make those characters sing,” he said. “I got very excited imagining the world Sarah created on stage.”
Hammond, too, said that she was “really engaged by the characters that Adam created.” In other shows, she said, you forget songs soon after, but the meaningful songs Gwon’s characters perform are “something fictional that’s gonna have a lasting impact.”
The two said that their different styles compliment one another very well in an opposites-attract sense. While Hammond likes to write in fantastical, other-worldly settings, Gwon’s work tends to have its roots in very real locations.
“We’ve got a perfect child … in terms of the two aesthetics we’re bringing to the table,” Gwon said.
The show was part of the 2014 National Association of Musical Theatre Showcase in New York City, where it was discovered by Village and invited as part of the Festival of New Musicals and Beta Series.
“The show is this passion project that we’ve continued to work on in between other shows … It’s so satisfying — this is the one that’s been the spotlight,” Gwon said.
The central themes of the show are sentiments that everyone — mortal and deity alike — can relate to. Atropos is committed to her career duties, but when she has a chance meeting with a security guard in an elevator, everything is thrown upside down.
“They have an awkward conversation … that for these two lonely and awkward souls, they just can’t ignore,” Hammond said.
Hammond named responsibility, the nature of being a woman in power and the force of being in love as just a few of the show’s central themes.
“Ultimately we’re trying to get at something real that could happen in people’s hearts — all the feelings you have when you meet The One,” Hammond said. “The fears, doubts, worries, excitement.”
The musical numbers match these sentiments. Gwon said that the show includes a variety of songs, from sweeping, grand pieces to contemporary pieces tailored to invididual characters.
“The stories demanded music on an epic scope … but also personal moments,” Gwon explained. “The interplay between the two is really fun.”
Each of the sisters has music befitting her personality. Youngest sister Clotho (in charge of beginning life) has sweet, bouncy songs, while middle sister Lachesis (in charge of measuring life) has the rebellious, edgy, rock-type music of a teenager. Meanwhile, eldest sister Atropos (in charge of ending life) has the most complex and emotional pieces, reflecting her inner turmoil as she falls in love with a human.
And a detailed memory of those Greek and Roman myths that you read in high school and college is not necessary — though Hammond noted slyly that “people who know Greek mythology will pick up on Easter eggs” hidden throughout the play.
“String” plays Wednesdays through Sundays and select Tuesdays from March 15 through April 22.