Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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August 09, 2011

Nick Ballard and Casey Kringlen Photo: Ed Krieger/Boston Court 2011

Injecting contemporary popular psychology into the stories of Greek mythology has been a staple of theatrical endeavor almost as long as there has been theater. Myth is some of the oldest stories we like to tell about ourselves, and this era is no different from any before it in that regard. Some of the Theater @ Boston Court's biggest recent successes have come from this playbook, such as Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey from last season. (Alfaro had also taken on Electricidad for Center Theater Group a few years before.) This year’s model is Steve Yockey’s obliquely-titled Heavier than…. The topic is the Minotaur in his labyrinth awaiting the latest crop of Athenian heroes including Theseus to arrive. Yockey plays very fast and loose with the Minotaur myth and other legends towards his goal of grafting a modern-day psychological drama about mother-child attachment and abandonment on these events. We meet Asterius, the Minotaur, one day before his 30th birthday dreading the upcoming battle and murder of the Athenians and lamenting his inability to see his beloved mother whom he has not seen since his infancy despite her relative proximity. Yockey also gives us three care-taking chorus women who are more or less the three Fates, constantly making and passing rope throughout the evening and revealing to Asterius images of his mother from the past. There is also a highly amorous and S&M inclined Icarus who repeatedly flies into the labyrinth on test wings in hopes of seducing this built, half-naked man with bull horns though his efforts are largely to no avail. Finally, there is Asterius’ sister Ariadne who appears only briefly to deliver a birthday greeting, and leaving behind the end of a strand of silver thread to this most central part of the labyrinth.

Yockey has a real gift for developing a scene, and one quickly becomes engaged with the interactions between these characters. Abigail Deser's crisp direction creates a urgent flow of events even when the play doesn't feel like it has anywhere to go. The psychological characterizations in the play are kept somewhat in check and don't completely overwhelm the mythological elements. Of course, Yockey’s use of mythology is messy and can be confusing at times even within the play's own logic. The Fates at one moment inform Asterius that they have worked intentionally to guarantee he fulfill his preordained destiny by showing him their visions of his mother. And yet when he finally achieves his destiny, the implication is that the Minotaur is defying the nature of the universe in doing so. It's the dramaturgical equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too. Of course, it's a strategy not uncommon in working with myth, and certainly artists no less than Wagner had a penchant for altering story elements slightly with each iteration inside of a piece to make things fit the way he wanted to at any particular moment. There are many loose ends left dangling in Heavier Than... and if you can look around them, there's a story about the imagined relationship between a mother and her long estranged son to consider.

The production itself is up to the usual high Boston Court standards. The single set looks great and is well lit. The three chorus/Fates, Ashanti Brown, Teya Patt, and Katie Locke O'Brien, are cheeky but their synchronized speech invokes their supernatural heritage. There is more than a little skin to be shown between Nick Ballard's Asterius and Casey Kringlen‘s Icarus who’ve clearly kept up their Cretan gym memberships. Ballard is particularly likable as the young man/monster learning to live with himself in the wake of his mother's abandonment. I was also fond of Jill Van Velzer‘s turn as Pasiphae, Asterius’ mother. Van Velzer was last seen at Boston Court as Hamlet's ex-rocker mother in God Save Gertrude and she is just as interesting to watch here. These likable performances are critical to Heavier Than..., whose lens on them heavily for the show's motion. Even when the mythology boils down to an episode of Dr. Phil, there's enough here to keep things going, and it's a show that deserves to be seen. The show runs through Aug 21.

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