We all at some point wish our stories were different. But our stories are our own and that’s just the way it is. Or is it? What if your story change? What if you did have a choice? What if it didn’t have to go exactly as narrated time and time again? Such thought provoking questions of choices, fate, destiny, and change come to light as Rorschach Theatre presents a joint world premier of Anna Ziegler’s The Minotaur.
Directed by Randy Baker, this thought-provoking deeply intense drama unfolds the classic Greek Myth like you’ve never heard it before. Love struck Ariadne — who can’t stop daydreaming and tweeting her love to Theseus — is torn over wanting a life of her own and living a life of shame with a brother who is half-human half-bull. Then there’s the problem of the Minotaur himself — desperately craving sympathy as he is punished for the crimes of others that have been laid upon him. A tangle of retold stories brings this cutting-edge show to the stage for heightened dramatic climax.
Scenic Designer David Ghatan provides the labyrinth for all to see the moment they arrive. A spindling web strung around the rounded stage encroaching inward and upward lets the sense of being trapped radiate from the walls straight through the seats of the audience. Combined with the efforts of Lighting Designer Stephanie P. Freed and Sound Designer James Bigbee Garver, the production design of the performance completely encapsulates the notion of being ‘stuck’ as if in a story that keeps repeating over and over, while still managing to have a fresh edge to it. The dichotomy of this notion; that the story is the same but every changing while not changing is well reflected in the production’s design, enhancing the intensity with which the performance is experienced.
The play itself is a witty and poignant piece of mythology upended by playwright Anna Ziegler. The juxtaposition of ‘Mythos 101′ and ‘Diary of an Emo Minotaur’ lay out over the span of 90 minutes with ripe moments of raw emotion, well-timed zingers, topical modern references, and a world of deep insightful relatable elements; all of which make this one of the most unique retellings in modern theatre. With comedic aspects not dissimilar to more recent adaptations of Metamorphoses and the drama of a daytime soap opera, this riveting new work is simply impressive beyond compare.
The element of the Greek Chorus is present, if abstractly displaced at first. Appearing as a Rabbi (Jjana Valentiner,) a Priest (Frank Britton) and a Lawyer (Colin Smith) the unified narrative voice moves the story along even when the unwitting characters become unwilling. The trio of performers becomes detached from their text in an appealing fashion, with a deep resounding omnipresence to their voices, particularly when they speak as one— sometimes in unison and sometimes echoing one another. Britton in particular bears the brunt of humor, delivering his lines with an extra comic kick from time to time.
Valentiner becomes an integral part of the story in one retelling — the innocent goat girl to whom the Minotaur finds himself in love — and she makes distinctive physical and vocal choices to delineate between the two. Her approach as the Rabbi is cold and objective, especially when interacting directly with the characters, which happens from time to time throughout the production.
Thesueus (Josh Sticklin) creates the perfect balance between epic hero wannabe and modern teenage heartthrob. With an equilibrium between his simplistic narcissism and his unquenchable thirst for adventure, Sticklin molds a rich progressive character from the text. He applies spunk to his tone and gestures, giving him an edginess of youthful exuberance that translates well into his dialogues with Ariadne. He delivers moments of great tension to the audience as he winds and unwinds his way through the labyrinth throwing his whole body into the task at hand, making it that much more believable.
Ariadne (Sara Dabney Tisdale) is a flighty flitty school girl of sorts that just can’t keep her head on straight when it comes to love. Tisdale waxes poetic with star struck eyes and a dreamy voice that is so airy it makes her sound as if she might literally up and float away on a cloud. Her moments of vapid shallowness are tempered with deeply conflicting emotions that are displayed almost explosively when encountering her brother. Tisdale crafts a multi-dimensional rich and complex character by alternating her moments of torn confusion with her airhead love. Her voice is engaging and her moments of conflict — be they lover’s quarrels of a simplistic nature with Theseus or more serious moments of loathing and disgust with the Minotaur — are gripping.
The Minotaur (David Zimmerman) displays a myriad of passionate emotions all of which are channeled through levels of vocal anguish; bit it raging anger or pleading despair. Zimmerman creates the ultimate paradox upon the stage being both the minotaur and not the minotaur. His body strains with physical tension; unbridled lust and forbidden pleasures bucking against a desperate need for compassion and sympathy, all while holding his sister. His body language echoes every deep emotion that is expressed in his vocalizations tenfold. He whips through emotions like the wind in a storm wreaking havoc upon all in his path. And when he comes face to face with Theseus in a series of physical fights the dynamic eruption of tension is mind blowing.
A legend well worth hearing, even if you think you’ve heard it before; especially if you think you know it because this retelling will certainly make you think twice about that.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
The Minotaur plays through February 17, 2013 at The Atlas Theatre located at 1333 H Street NE in Washington, DC. For tickets please call the box office at (202) 399-7993 or purchase them online.