Mazes and monsters

One World's new play Minotaur takes the bull by the horns.

MYTHS ARE ODD monsters in the modern world. On the one hand, stories of the Greek gods and heroes seem impossibly foreign and fantastic, fodder for children's books (with the incest and mutilations expurgated) or the camp sensibilities of Hercules and Xena. On the other, they are all too familiar via clich頡nd hyperbole. Every collection of cubicles is a labyrinth, every difficult journey is an odyssey, and every neurosis refers back to some tragic hero or another. What's missing from both ends of the spectrum is any sort of real relevance to the world around us.

Minotaur

On the Boards till October 17

This is the best thing going for Minotaur, One World Theater's simple yet sophisticated rethinking of the myth of the man-bull. Writer David Russell reimagines the court politics of King Minos as they might play in the Clinton years, with a media-savvy ruler trying desperately to stem personal scandal through spin-doctoring. (Which is worse—sex with an intern or a wife who's slept with your prize livestock?) But in addition to the political satire, Minotaur examines how we react when confronted with a prospect that stirs our desires and promises us the fulfillment of our dreams.

Into the troubled court of King Minos of Crete (Jim Gall) has come a magical white bull, a gift from the gods that makes each person who sees it believe that it represents the fulfillment of her or his dreams. For Minos it's political power personified. For his scientist Daedalus (James Garver) it represents a font of scientific knowledge. For his frustrated wife Pasiphae (Christina Mastin) it conjures up images of sexual abandon and fulfillment. ("Have you ever wanted something so much that you don't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks?" she purrs out to the obsequious Daedalus.) And as for his teenage daughter Ariadne (Desiree Prewitt), her daydreams of a warrior prince who will come to rescue her have gone into overdrive.

The dreams of each character are projected as video images on the long hanging sheets that represent the corridors of the palace. The video work by Mike Rainey, Paul Marcontel, and Stan Paik is sophisticated indeed compared to most multimedia efforts, and it happily complements the action rather than distracts from it. It's just part of an elaborate production design that is a near-seamless combination of choreography (via celebrated local dancer Crispin Spaeth), acting, shadow puppetry, and sophisticated audio work—with the creative aroma of frying meat thrown in for good measure.

Director Shawn Belyea pulls choice performances out of a remarkable cast, successfully marrying comic slapstick, naturalism, and a dreamlike theatricality. Garver's abstracted manner, filled with tics and strange mechanical movements, is evocatively birdlike; it's no wonder he's obsessed with getting his artificial wings to work properly. Mastin's pansexual charisma has rarely had such an appropriate role as she has here. This is an actress who can lust after a bull with the same believability she brings to playing the regal politician's wife. And Prewitt's Ariadne is a fine evocation of a troubled yet canny teenager who's learned to manipulate even better than her parents.

As for Gall as King Minos—now here's a performance that's positively Shakespearean in scale. This fine Seattle actor is normally confined to the sort of conventional naturalistic role that modern theater specializes in, but he's absolutely grand as a man who combines a foreboding physical presence with a career politician's subtle mind. Whether he's exhorting the crowd to "climb aboard the bull of my dreams" or reminding the anxious Daedalus that Crete loves the spectacle of an Athenian going up in smoke once in a while, he's a delight in a show that gives him some striding room for a change.

I ORIGINALLY SAW Minotaur as a work-in-progress at On the Board's New Works Festival back in April, when the half-finished piece concluded with Pasiphae giving birth to the half-bull monster. While the first half of the completed piece is tighter and stronger than that initial sneak peek, the play's second half never succeeds in matching it. Once the Minotaur, played by the offstage voice of writer Russell, enters the play, there's surprisingly little payoff for all the buildup. Subtle in mind instead of brutish in body, this Minotaur tries to manipulate the other characters into following his obscure plan, tempting them with their dreams and his miraculous power to create images. The seductive nature of televised media receives some appropriate jabs, but the individual desires of the human characters become diffuse and confused, and while the ending is unexpected, it fails to satisfyingly wrap up their dilemmas. It's a shame, but only a small one; despite the sags in the narrative, the combined talents of the designers and actors continue to delight and engage all the way to the end.

 
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