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‘A Maze’ at Rorschach Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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There are two kinds of mazes – the one where you start on one side and work your way through to the other, and the kind where you start on the outside and work your way to the center. Rorschach Theatre’s production of Rob Handel’s A Maze is a complex twist of working your way though from start to finish while trying to wind into the complexity and find the jewel buried at the center. Directed by Grady Weatherford, a brilliant presentation of dark and controversial themes comes to light in this labyrinth as three unlikely stories interweave and become an integral part of one another.

Rock stars and lovers Oksana (Sara Barker) and Paul (Andrew Ferlo) say their goodbyes at the rehab clinic. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The rock star over-coming addiction, the comic book artist who claims not to be an artist but a vessel for his 15,000 page story, and a girl who is now trying to navigate the maze of her own freedom after having lived in captivity from a childhood abduction nine years ago. Handel creates mazes-within-mazes both literally and metaphorically throughout the show. His intense focus on the maze as various representations of dozens of different things ensnares the audience into his multi-dimensional characters; a clever hand-crafted puzzle to carefully unravel as the show progresses. The plot folds delicately over on itself and as the show transitions from one act to the next the dark and intricate secrets of the characters spiral to dead ends and new corridors as if they comprised the maze itself.

Scenic Designer Robbie Hayes further develops the notion of the maze in the way he has established the set. Fragments of a maze are hung like disjointed puzzle pieces around the walls, enveloping the stage so that the walls of the ever-present “maze” are always around them. Hayes’ designs do not stop at the wall art alone, incorporating sliding and moving walls of the same design and the floor is equally as impressive, shifting about to create and reveal spaces as if the maze were alive; ever shifting, ever growing.

Weatherford adds his own elements of twisting surprise to the production with his casting choices. Each of the performers create solid grounded characters that each develop their own internal maze as well the maze of the general plot and the smaller subplot mazes that overlap the main story arch. It’s amazing just how well this all twists together and no one gets lost in the process.

The way the characters build relationships in this production is an essential part of making the plot move fluidly through its twisting turning maze of existence. Characters stack like the challenges of the maze, one atop the other working together to achieve a labyrinth of epic proportions. The cast’s working knowledge of one another and the way they each fit into the show like the cogs in a machine is astonishing; a team effort that does not go unrecognized or unappreciated in the final product.

Recent kidnapping survivor Jessica (Jenny Donovan) prepares to run. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The everyman and everywoman actors in this production play a crucial role in the flawless execution of the character driven relationships that move this story to its maddening conclusion. Robin Covington as the distraught mother of the kidnapped girl, the queen in the comic book, and a snide skeptic creates three unique characters that lay specifically crafted groundwork for the major characters to build themselves upon. Covington does a remarkable job of keeping her character shifts concise and really embodies the queen the best. Luke Cieslewicz, as the male in this position, taking on the roles of Tom the perky rehab councilor, the realist brother of the kidnapped kid, and the burn-out rocker of the band does an equally impressive job with his characters’ realistic portrayals. Like Covington his characters make the spaces around them a reality, Tom turning the rehab facility into a believable location and making the patients’ recoveries seem that much more special.

Rich relationships are explored between Oksana (Sara Barker) and Paul (Andrew Ferlo) as on-again off-again lovers in a rock band. Their relationship in places acts as a vessel for their creativity; a secondary outlet for the actors to import personal touches to the script. Barker has severe emotional outbursts that are compelling and chilling, particularly during act II, and Ferlo goes through several complete transformations, his character ever growing and evolving. His relationship with Beeson (Ryan Mitchell) is one that stabilizes the dramatic climbing points of the show, drawing parallels between how similar the two characters are, while each trying to navigate the mazes of their own lives.

It’s the complexity of these relationships that force the show on through the ups and downs of what’s happening. Mitchell as first Beeson and then the snow-dog hybrid in the comic book maze, masters the art of being a completely developed socially awkward individual. Mitchell’s mannerisms are indicative of a number of alarming things about his character that make him fascinating to watch. Reaching act II with him in mind is like finding a trap door at the center of the maze that you think leads to the prize but only leads down to an even more intricate maze below.

Jessica (Jenny Donovan) has the most complex character development of all but as her story is the maze I can say little more than it will simply blow you away. Donovan creates binding relationships with everyone she interacts with, those with Mitchell and Megan Dominy as the TV talk show host Kim, being the most powerful. Dominy and Donovan have an immediate kinship from the moment they encounter one another and this powerful bond stays present throughout the production.

The dark and off-colored humor that dots the show adds to complexity, creating commentary on the separation between art and artist and whether or not one can truly ever separate them.

Rorschach’s A Maze is a rich exploration in a plethora of things that all fold together in the winding bends of this sensational maze.

Beeson (Ryan Mitchell) works on his graphic novel magnum opus while Jessica (Jenny Donovan) watches. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

A Maze plays through September 9, 2012 at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets by calling the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.

LINK

Read Grady Weatherford’s preview of A Maze on DC Metro Theater Arts.

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