Routine can be both comforting and confining, offering stability while constructing artificial walls that silently guide our daily lives. In their jaw-dropping production of Rob Handel’s A Maze, Rorschach Theatre explores the depths of our own prisons in an arresting portrait of obsession, addiction, and fear of the unknown.
A Maze features a motley array of characters: an escaped kidnapping victim, a slumping rock band, a fractured family, a cloistered king and queen, and a comic book artist who can’t stop drawing. The play rarely gives the audience time to breathe, as the action shifts rapidly between multiple locations, time frames, and even realities. Initially the characters’ distinct scenarios seem linked only by a repeated metaphor about being stuck in a maze of one’s own creation. As the play unfolds, however, an ominous shared story emerges from the haze, leaving the audience to marvel, mouths agape, at Handel’s dramatic puzzle box.
Director Grady Weatherford susses out a cohesive slate of quality performances from his multitasking cast. The energy never flags even as the attention oscillates between each character every few minutes. Ryan Mitchell stands out with his magnetic, unsettling portrayal of obsessed artist Beeson Earwax. Beeson is terrified of life without routine, and haunted by a compulsion to toil endlessly on his 15,000 page magnum opus. Mitchell handles the demanding role with aplomb, presenting an acting tour de force that culminates in an unsettling debate between multiple personalities fighting to escape Beeson’s fevered mind.
Jenny Donovan also leaves her mark as Jessica, a conflicted young woman who returns to society after an 8 year abduction. Throughout the play, the audience is made to constantly scrutinize her motivations as she goes from victim to overnight TV sensation. Donovan exhibits a complex brew of fear and inner strength, as the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome” seems to hover overhead throughout the show. Her ambivalence when presented with an easy escape route is both infuriating and, somehow, sweet.
The other cast members embody a number of roles with consistent intensity and care. Andrew Ferlo and Sara Barker bring an easy chemistry and creative spark to the dysfunctional rock duo Paul and Oksana. Francisco Reinoso contributes welcome comic relief as the band’s jaded manager Gareth, cracking wise whenever they get too full of themselves or overanalyze their art. Reinoso’s sly wit even carries a joke about Hitler’s paintings – not an easy task, even among Rorschach patrons.
Robbie Hayes’ intricate scenic design looms large over the characters scampering about its labyrinthian landscape. As the characters traverse their own mazes, the stage adapts and shifts about them. Flats swing back and forth, platforms accordion sideways, and secret doors slowly reveal themselves. With modest materials, Hayes has created a living backdrop for Handel’s twisting narrative. Meanwhile, Thomas Sowers atmospheric sound design buttresses the immersive environment of the stage, bridging disjoint scenes through subtle audio cues and lilting guitar strains.
Weatherford’s canny orchestration of plot, acting, scenery, and lighting ensnares the audience and traps it deep within Handel’s swirling narrative. A Maze is not only a mind-bending enigma of storytelling, but also a deep meditation on the strictures and interconnectedness of everyday life. This stunning metaphysical mystery boldly sticks the truth right in the audience’s face and dares them to decipher it before the thunderous reveal.
A Maze by Rob Handel; Directed by Grady Weatherford; Produced by Rorschach Theatre; Reviewed by Ben Demers.