If most teenage girls described their brother as a beast, we would chalk it up to youthful exaggeration. In Ariadne’s case it is literally true since her half-brother is The Minotaur, the eponymous character in Rorschach Theatre’s joint world premiere of a quirky, thoughtful, and entertaining new play by Anna Ziegler.
The Minotaur is a modern update of the classic Greek myth. Ariadne is an unhappy teenager who lives in a deeply dysfunctional home. Her father, Minos, is the despot ruler of Crete who loathes his wife for falling in love with a bull (a divine punishment by Poseidon for the failure of Minos to sacrifice the bull to honor him) and giving birth to a monster. Her mother despises anything else that came from her womb, meaning Ariadne. As a result, Ariadne is so lonely that she frequently visits the prison maze beneath the castle to talk and play Connect Four with her half-brother, a man with the head of a bull (or a horned helmet in this production).
Ariadne (Sara Dabney Tisdale) has lots of time to dream of romance and a hero who might take here away from her dreary life. She has found a candidate in Theseus (Josh Sticklin), who she met in a chat room for royals. (Anachronistic humor provides welcome comic moments in the play.) Theseus possesses good looks and a dashing spirit, even if he is a bit thick. He also returns Ariadne’s love despite the fact that he found many of her e-mails to him “intense.”
Ariadne is so eager to escape her home with Theseus that she does not seem to mind the fact that he will kill her half-brother, who may have been her only in-person friend. This lack of sympathy causes the Minotaur (David Zimmerman), often gruff and threatening, to feel self-pity. From his viewpoint, he has spent his life in the maze-prison despite the fact it is not his fault that he was born a monster with a taste for human flesh.
The characters all seem to know the outcome of the mythic story, which they have acted out countless times. Aiding with telling the story and protecting the integrity of the myth is a Greek chorus consisting of a priest (Frank Britton), a rabbi (Jjana Valentiner), and a lawyer (Colin Smith). No, that is not the start of a joke, but the members of this chorus are the source of some funny quips in the narration.
Playwright Ziegler (best known locally as the author of Photograph 51) dances with several interesting intellectual questions. Is love the key to happiness, or is happiness overrated? Are men much different from beasts? Most importantly, are our lives preordained by fate or do we have free will that allows us to choose our futures?
Under director Randy Baker, the story is given a direct telling, free of much stagecraft. The intimate in-the-round theatre is a spooky black box with interwoven ropes that has a spider web vibe.
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Closes February 17, 2013
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
[/wpcol_1quarter]The story does not seem to have changed significantly since presented in 2008 as part of the Kennedy Center’s “Page to Stage” festival. It is a tribute to the actors that this offbeat, intellectual tale has achieved added emotional weight. Tisdale’s portrayal of the teenage Ariadne is both charming and affecting despite the character’s changeable nature. Zimmerman’s performance as the Minotaur deserves the highest accolades. It is so strong that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the part.
Ziegler’s play has clever dialogue. She artfully develops her themes, and the play unexpectedly grows on the audience as it approaches its conclusion.
So where does the play “myth” the mark? The relationship between Ariadne and Theseus is not very strong and therefore does not draw much rooting interest. While Ariadne is given a fuller psychological portrait, she is a passive figure as an underdeveloped Theseus makes the final fateful decision. Finally, the play is, at time, a little talky and occasionally too cute, as when Ariadne stops to state that she is always confused by her feelings at a particular point in the story.
Overall, Rorschach Theatre’s production of The Minotaur achieves the rare trifecta of being touching, intelligent, and enjoyable. Anna Ziegler’s play deserves to be seen and this critic is bullish that it will receive additional productions in the future.
The Minotaur by Anna Ziegler . Directed by Randy Baker . Features Frank Britton, Sara Dabney Tisdale, Colin Smith, Josh Sticklin, Jjana Valentiner and David Zimmerman. Production: Lauren Cucarola (Costume Designer), Stephanie P. Freed (Lighting Designer), James Bigbee Garver (Sound Designer), David C. Ghatan (Set Designer) and Justin Titley (Props Designer). Produced by Rorschach Theatre in a rolling premiere with Synchronicity Theatre of Atlanta, Georgia. Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
John Stoltenberg . MagicTime
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
Alexis Victoria Hauk . DCist
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts