‘Heavier Than. . .’
By Steve Yockey
Directed by Abigail Deser
With Nick Ballard, Casey Kringlen, Laura Howard, Jill Van Velzer
The Theatre @ Boston Court, Pasadena, Calif.
Through Aug. 21, 2011
For starters, how about a guy who is part man and part bull, and another guy who is going to fly too close to the sun and crash, meeting in a pile of rocks? Not quite the equivalent of “A man walks into a bar …” Sounds more like the stuff of myth, no? Worth a revisit? Well, it somewhat depends upon your appetite for reworking the classics.
You have probably guessed that the guy who is out flying is Icarus (Casey Kringlen), even if you cannot recall everything Ovid said of him. The minotaur is Asterius (Nick Ballard), his friends call him Aster and so shall we. He is a minotaur, the result of the one night stand his mother, Queen Pasiphae (Jill Van Velzer), had with a white bull. The king in his fury ordered Daedalus, a builder of things, to construct a complex labyrinth to surround and contain the monster, Aster; Daedalus and his son, Icarus, are also confined to the labyrinth so Daedalus cannot reveal the path through the labyrinth to anyone.
These were nasty times in the king business. Every seven years there is a festival for which Athens is required to supply young men to the king of Crete. The challenge is for the young men to find their way through the labyrinth to get to the minotaur and kill him. If one succeeds in penetrating the labyrinth, the minotaur, of course, kills the Athenian, to the entertainment of the villagers of Crete. Being a monster is a heavy burden on Aster.
No proper Greek myth would be without a chorus. On a ledge above the labyrinth are three women. Sometimes they speak as one; often they are components: the flirt, the friend, and the adviser. In particular, Ashanti Brown’s “Aster baby” interjections as the friend figure were priceless. They prod and tease Aster, and he appeals to them to tell him stories and show him visions of his mother whom he has idealized. His sister Ariadne (Laura Howard), the one outsider who has figured out how to get to the center, incurs the scorn of the chorus for her self-absorption. Aster hungers for the familial contact. The chorus at times complains of being bored. I could feel their pain.
All that is just the set-up.
Tomorrow is Aster’s 30th birthday. He pines for his mother to come visit him. He has not seen her since his banishment to the labyrinth when he was 3. Meanwhile the younger and besotted Icarus drops in, uninvited, sporting a splendid pair of feathered wings his father has created for him so he will be able to escape the labyrinth. It would be hard to imagine a better personification of an adolescent crush than Kringlen’s Icarus. Now, if you remember your mythology, the stories of Icarus and the minotaur are only tangentially connected. However, in “Heavier Than …,” flirtatious Icarus’ relationship to Aster is central.
Where is all this going you might ask? Steve Yockey is not the first modern playwright to look to the classics for a story line. He blends the two myths, changing the emphasis, and updating the language, but really not much else. Charles Mee, for example, has used Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Moliere, etc. much more effectively. Mee’s language might be more classical, at times, but his meaning is more modern in the end. Yockey’s product is more of a mishmash, not a classic and only superficially modern. And why the silly title, “Heavier Than …?” There must be a better way to express the weight of Aster’s plight.
The production of “Heavier Than …” is worthy of a much larger house than the Theatre @ Boston Court. Kurt Boetcher’s set stunningly evokes the image of stone labyrinth, yet the mighty minotaur can slightly shake it when he needs to act out his fury. The lighting by Lap Chi Chu fluctuates from appropriately unobtrusive to dramatic. Unfortunately, despite the wonderful set, Icarus’ fanciful feathered wings and his flitting and flirting, as well as the charming antics of the chorus, the total effort impresses as more than the material deserves.