Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Minotaur was written by Anna Ziegler, whose best known play, Photograph 51, was given a strong staging some years ago by Minnesota Jewish Theater Company. While that play is a naturalistic drama drawn from historic events and personages, The Minotaur is a flight of fantasy, based on Greek mythology, allowing the playwright free rein to take the tale wherever she desires.
If you recall your "Bullfinch's Mythology," the Minotaur is a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. King Minos of Crete worshiped Poseidon, the sea god, and asked Poseidon to send him a pure white bull as acknowledgement of his support. Poseidon did this with the stipulation that Minos would in turn sacrifice the bull to the god. Finding the bull too beautiful to destroy, Minos instead sacrificed one of his own bulls. To punish Minos for this transgression, Poseidon bewitched Minos' wife Pasiphaë to have uncontrollable lustful feelings for the bull. Pasiphaë seduced the creature, resulting in her giving birth to a monster-child, the Minotaur.
Once grown, the Minotaur required a diet of human flesh. Minos kept him in an intricate labyrinth in which victims captured to provide his sustenance could not escape. Would-be heroes tried to slay the voracious Minotaur, but wound up lost in the labyrinth and became one more monster meal. This changed when Theseus, an Athenian warrior, arrived in Crete, and Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë, fell hopelessly in love with him. Moved by her passion, she aided her beloved to slay her half-brother and find his way back from the labyrinth, only to be abandoned by Theseus.
This is the "standard" version of the tale, but there have been numerous variations, include Roman and Etruscan versions, a series of Picasso sketches, a contemporary novel, a sci-fi movie, and even an episode of the TV series ("Dr. Who"), so no reason Ziegler can't have her own take on the Minotaur. Her distinctive focal point is the question of free will. As the events unfold, she asks if our actions are pre-ordained by fate, making it foolish to resist our impulses, or if humans have free will chart their own path. The Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne all wrestle with this quandary. To keep them on the course of destiny, a "chorus" composed of a Priest, a Rabbi and a Lawyer, provide commentary on the action and advice to the characters. They are not so well developed in terms of each making unique contributions to the enterprise, but collectively they act as a conscience, ruled not by distinctions of right and wrong, but by the divide between what is ordained and what is impossible, leaving nothing between.
The play is full of intentional anachronisms, such as Pasiphaë anticipating sharing her life with Theseus, asking him "Will we buy or rent?," or when the Rabbi speaks longingly of Jewish deli foods. The effect is comical, and also transforms the desires and concerns of these characters from mythical emotions into everyday needs and feelings. Their circumstances may be epic, but when they get down to the business of living, they are not so very special. They are like usafter all, they have a flesh-eating Minotaur, we have globe-warming carbon emissionsand at the end of the day, we still want to know where we will live, what shoes to wear, and where is the best falafel.
Kip Dooley maintains the most consistency in demeanor as the Minotaur, fierce in his outward temperament, desperately wounded within by his rejection by all other creatures, especially humans. His great ambition seems to be to persuade his sister that she is not so unlike him, that they have common roots, which would make him not so alone. Dooley gives the Minotaur grace and eloquence in contrast to his monstrous existence. As Ariadne, Stanzi D. Schalter plays into the anachronisms that make her a bridge between the ancients and the world we know. With a heaping blonde wig and an accent that sounds like native Chicago, she is drawn to practical matters, yet vexed by her half-brother's appeals to take his part. Derek Meyer is an arrogant, strutting Theseus, broadcasting his heroic persona with a shirt opened to his waist, bold movement, and awareness of the effect he has on women. He is most surprised to discover within himself the possibility of change, and of resisting his destiny. As the chorus, Brian Columbus (Priest), Noë Tallen (Rabbi), and Mike Tober (Lawyer) are all amiable company, confident in their creeds and their authority to pass judgement on all that occurs.
Director Amber Bjork emphasizes the play's lightness when the Minotaur is off stage, but his appearance seems to remind the other characters that beneath the lightness are painful and dangerous currents. The set, designed by Julia Carlis, consists primarily of woven sheets hung from above that appear to be of coarse cloth, resembling ancient banners and creating the effect of a pageant. Those on the side of the stage from where Theseus enters are solid, firm, and durable looking. Those on the side from where the Minotaur enters are loosely woven, the space between the yarns giving a sense of impermanence and uncertainty. Mandi Johnson has designed costumes with an indeterminate storybook look of "long ago" with a very cool bull's head mask for the Minotaur. Sound and light designs enhance the production, adding a burnished effect to the playwright's tale.
The Minotaur is a curiosity that revisits a mythic story with fresh concerns and insights. While its execution is lighthearted, the heart of the matter contains some serious questions and ideas. I would not call it a great time at the theater, nor a great play. It is a good time and a good play, mounted with imagination and verve, and likely to prompt more thoughts once the tale is all told than during the telling.
The Minotaur continues through October 22, 2017, at the Crane Theater, 2303 Kennedy Street N.E., Minneapolis, MN. All tickets are on a sliding scale $14.00 - $41.00, two for one on Sundays with Minnesota Fringe Festival button. For more information and tickets call 612- 234-7135 or go to theatreprorata.org.
Writer: Anna Ziegler; Director: Amber Bjork; Set Design: Julia Carlis; Costume Design: Mandi Johnson; Lighting Design: Jon Kirchhofer; Sound Design: Jacob M. Davis; Prop Design: Carin Bratlie Wethern; Dramaturg: Christine "Kit" Gordon; Stage Manager: André Johnson Jr.
Cast: Brian Columbus (Priest), Kip Dooley (The Minotaur), Derek Meyer (Theseus), Stanzi D. Schalter (Ariadne), Noë Tallen (Rabbi), Mike Tober (Lawyer)