by John Stoltenberg
I have to admire Rorschach Theatre for being transparently clear about what it is and what it isn’t. You get exactly where this preternaturally innovative company is going from its specs for script submissions:
We are especially interested in plays that are epic in scope but intimate in their exploration of human psychology. Plays that include elements of mythology and the supernatural while remaining contemporary in their themes and settings. Plays that might be described as magic realism. Plays that might be described by some literary managers as “impossible.” Please no domestic comedies or kitchen sink dramas.
Epic in scope (on a modest budget)? Check. Entering the small black box theater one finds a circular playing area—like a mini-stadium for combat—surrounded by circular seating, which in turn is embraced by a mysterious web in which bare bulbs dangle. For ninety passing strange minutes, the audience exists inside the set. Which is kind of cool.
Exploration of human psychology? Check. Ariadne’s unrequited love for Theseus gets ample stage time, along with assorted, and sordid, other passions.
Elements of mythology and supernatural? OMG, check. Among other goings on, this is the Greek yarn of the smitten Ariadne and who persuades her wanna-beau Theseus to behead her half bro, the half-man-half-bull minotaur, whom their mother conceived in a PG beastiality episode. And yes, the plot involves actual yarn, with which Ariadne strings Theseus along.
Contemporary in themes and settings? Check. This retold myth is shot through with modernisms—e.g., the characters communicate by email and play Connect Four (go figure), and the classic Greek chorus is, um, a priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer.
Magic realism? See all of the above.
“Impossible”? Well, check that too.
The thing about Greek myths retold in contemporary terms is that the undergirding story lines never make much sense. There are always loopy leaps of logic and castfuls of characters for whom you need a geneology crib sheet. These myths, after all, emerged in an archaic social order imbued with religious and cosmological belief systems utterly unrecognizable today. I always get the feeling you had to have been there. Still these myths have had a hold on culture-makers’ imaginations for generations. So who’s to say Zeigler, Rorschach, and Co. should not give it another try?
But here’s where the “kitchen sink” thing comes in, because the text of The Minotaur itself is a rambunctious but random mashup. It’s kind of a fun ride. But the anachronisms wear a bit thin. And the playscript never achieves the unified vision that, say, David Ghatan’s set design and James Bigbee Garver’s sound design do.
Happily there’s some engagingly enjoyable acting to pull focus, ground us, and help create the illusion of continuity and character arcs. I was especially impressed by Josh Sticklin as Theseus (see my review of his star turn in Cuchullain) and Colin Smith as the Lawyer. But they were all an energetic ensemble, deftly directed by Randy Baker (who often had actors up in each other’s faces in moments that, seen so close full circle, were electrifying).
Rorschach is definitely a company to watch. Its ambition is invigorating, in a way that made even this “almost, not quite” experience rewarding. I’ll be back.