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Editorial Review

Rorschach’s ‘Minotaur’:A little myth, a lot of talk
By Nelson Pressley
Friday, January 25, 2013

The folks at Rorschach Theatre are practiced fantasists, so they have no problem conjuring a minotaur for the new play “The Minotaur.” Costume designer Lauren Cucarola provides actor David Zimmerman with a dapper suit in a brown rawhide tone, a shirt the color of blood, an elegant little horned headpiece, and voila: He’s a mythical bull chafing at the bad hand he’s been dealt by the gods.

Director Randy Baker also shows a sure touch with the dark labyrinth he creates in the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Set designer David Ghatan rings the intimate room in a net of string, and he seats the audience in a circle only two rows deep around the small playing area. Stephanie P. Freed’s lights are low and shadowy. The stage is set for ritual, for story.

Alas, that’s the catch. Anna Ziegler’s script is so self-conscious that it keeps getting snagged on its own meta-theatrical reflections. The plot is about characters trying to break the chains of what feels like fate, but they talk about it so much that their actual doings feel minimized.

Even so, the show comes at you with an intelligent mix of classicism and whimsy that’s not entirely unlike the pop myths of acclaimed director-adapter Mary Zimmerman (“Metamorphoses,” “Arabian Nights”). Ziegler may not be in Zimmerman’s flamboyant league, but her puckish script turns the Greek chorus into a priest (Frank Britton), a rabbi (Jjana Valentiner) and a lawyer (Colin Smith), and the Minotaur’s half-sister Ariadne begins the narration of her romance with Theseus by explaining that they met “in an online chat room for royals.”

The tone isn’t consistently that flip. In fact, “The Minotaur” is largely formal, possibly due to the fact that each character (not just the chorus) is responsible for so much narration. Themes of monstrous, ruinous appetite and the possibilities of self-determination -- excellent topics for our times -- are bold-faced as the characters recount incidents and replay scenes verbatim to illustrate the cages they exist in. You won’t miss the point as they strain for independence.

As the Minotaur, David Zimmerman broods effectively and with an undercurrent of threat; he’s nicely counterbalanced by Sara Dabney Tisdale’s storybook-chipper Ariadne. Josh Sticklin’s Theseus -- tasked with slaying the Minotaur -- is a strapping, youthful presence in snug trousers and T-shirt, and if his performance makes less of an impression it may be because the play hits its talkiest, most tangled passages by the time we meet this “hero” (a term that comes in for some scrutiny).

“The Minotaur” is part of a rolling premiere, which means that Rorschach’s production closely follows a staging in Atlanta. Baker’s show is smartly designed: it’s aided by subtle underscoring by James Bigbee Garver , and the only blemish is lighting that occasionally glows in the spectators’ eyes (the downside of having the patrons arranged in a small circle). You wonder if the Atlanta version somehow found more mojo in the fundamental conflicts; the ace here is the alluring mythic atmosphere.

PREVIEW: ‘Minotaur’ horns in on classic joke
By Maura Judkis
Friday, January 18, 2013

Alawyer, a rabbi and a priest walk into a bar, and the bartender asks, “What’s this, some kind of joke?”

It’s a good one. This weekend, the same unlikely trio will walk onto a stage and narrate a contemporary retelling of a more than 2,000-year-old play about a half-man/half-beast and his lovestruck sister. The ancient myth of the Minotaur is a window of insight into life today, says Rorschach Theatre’s artistic director, Randy Baker.

“The way that we retell our old stories says something important about who we are now,” says Baker, who is directing the play by Anna Ziegler. “What it says about us now, and our animal instincts and what it means to be a hero, the answers are different now. I think that these stories are really effective ways to re-examine our values every generation.”

That’s why the show’s Greek chorus is made up of a priest, rabbi and lawyer, the lead-up to that timeworn meta-joke.

“Bad jokes are sort of modern mythology; they’re a thing that gets passed down orally from person to person,” Baker says. “We retell it, and every once in a while it tells us something about ourselves.”

The Minotaur,” debuting Friday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, takes a look at contemporary relationships, free will and human nature. It’s a rare joint world premiere with Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, which produced the show in November. Other than the lawyer, priest and rabbi, the play features the familiar characters from Ovid’s “Heroides”: the Minotaur, the human-devouring man-bull trapped in the labyrinth; his half-sister, Ariadne; and the hero Theseus, who arrives to slay the Minotaur and carry Ariadne away. In this version, however, Ariadne is on Facebook and the Minotaur whiles away his time in the labyrinth playing Connect Four.

As the Minotaur, actor David Zimmerman wears a horned headpiece and a well-tailored suit worthy of GQ, which he sees as his character’s way of overcompensating for his animalistic side. Zimmerman describes getting into character as a half-man/half-beast as “methody,” because he has to put himself in a dark place, drawing on timeless human experiences, to invoke the Minotaur’s isolation.

“There are so many things the author writes that are insanely parallel to any aspect of your life,” Zimmerman says. “You’ve probably had that feeling like you were stuck in a circumstance that was destined for failure, or your demise, and there’s nothing that’s going to come out of it that represents you.”

The characters’ feelings about futility and fate come from the Greek chorus, which directs their movements like a puppetmaster pulls the strings. But, ultimately, the joke is on the rabbi, priest and lawyer, when their charges rebel.

“It’s this beautiful concept,” Baker says. “The chorus is telling a story, it’s one we’ve all heard before, and the characters decide, ‘We want to tell a new story. We want to break out of this myth.’ ”