A priest, a rabbi and a lawyer walk into a Greek myth … It may sound like a classic set-up for a joke, but it’s actually part of the premise behind Synchronicity Theatre’s world-premiere play “The Minotaur” at Horizon Theatre through November 11. The trio acts as a distinctly non-Greek chorus as the story of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur plays out. As the main characters begin to question their roles in the myth, the chorus gets more and more desperate to keep things on track.
Those familiar with the plays of Mary Zimmerman, such as “Metamorphosis” and “The Odyssey,” will know something of the spirit behind this new adaptation of a classic myth. As with Zimmerman, playwright Anna Zieger understands the power of taking a familiar Greek myth and making it vivid and current with live theater. The elements of myth require only the lightest of touches before they leap to life.
The story here exists in a sort of no-time between ancient Greece and the present: Ariadne (Rachel Frawley) and her half-brother the Minotaur (Tony Larkin) play Connect Four to pass the time in boring, provincial Crete. Theseus (Brandon Patrick) is Ariadne’s Internet crush from the big city, Athens. There’s a wonderful interplay between present-day references and Greek myth that the cast always keeps lively, fun and strangely believable.
It may seem odd to hear the Minotaur refer to reality TV or Ariadne describe Theseus’ Facebook profile, but after a while we settle in and enjoy. Some of the greatest power of myth derives from a good story, well told, and the cast and author clearly have the right sort of playful spirit for the task at hand. Ziegler also draws an interesting aspect of the myth that’s seldom highlighted: Ariadne and the Minotaur are half-siblings, so Ariadne’s assistance of Theseus is essentially a family betrayal.
Things start to get even more complicated as the characters begin to question whether or not they have the power to alter the myth they’re in. Some of the play’s questions — what is heroic? what does it mean to have free will? — are appropriately of the big, mythic sort, though they can occasionally feel heavy-handed. The play feels more active and alive when things are kept playful, when the big questions are present but unspoken.
Myths emerged from the oral tradition: they likely took their form through experimentation, not through rote formula or rigid rule following, as the play seems to suggest. In the original myth, Theseus slays the Minotaur and the Minotaur stays dead because any other way of telling the story just didn’t work as well, not because tellers felt obligated to stick to a particular series of events. Mythic characters’ seeming lack of choice and agency are not inherent to the stories themselves, though they seem that way to us: they were fresh at one time.
“The Minotaur” seems strongest when it’s having fun. It makes for an enjoyable evening at the theater, both watching the myth come to life and watching the characters kick at the edges of their narrative to see whether they can change their fates. It’s fascinating, fun and lively territory for cast, creators and audience.