Perpetua, BackStage Theatre Company, at the Cornelia Arts Building. Inventive movement, terrific ensemble work, and the affecting use of chants mark this original adaptation of the journal of an early Christian martyr. The second act also boasts some bright moments of levity: Perpetua has a vision of herself in a Roman arena that closely resembles a contemporary boxing ring, and the ensemble vividly personifies peevish crowds in 203 AD hoping to see a good goring of the emperor’s enemies.
Yet the show, written and directed by Clint Corley, remains unsatisfying. The production focuses on ensemble-based movement to the detriment of emotion and dramatic tension. Everything happens abruptly, and no effort is made to give personalities to Perpetua, her fellow Christians, her family, her prosecutors, or her guards. The script also hazards no guesses as to the characters’ motivations.
Some members of the nine-person cast give overwrought performances (Fannon Holland is particularly prone to histrionics as Perpetua’s father). But Sarah Goeden as Perpetua offers the most problematic characterization. We’re told Perpetua is a 22-year-old mother and brave martyr who kept her faith, but Goeden’s performance is reminiscent of a spoiled adolescent’s mood swings. It’s not a good sign when audience members at intermission are expressing their wish that Perpetua’s persecutors would just get it over with already.