An All Too Pretty Labyrinth

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

The center of the Minotaur's mythical labyrinth is not necessarily a place you want to find yourself. But I did recently - and it was stunning. Instead of high hedges, the walls were rebar and wire cages suspending stacked stones - lit by what felt like a gorgeous warm summer sunset.

poster.jpgThis is the setting for Heavier than... playwright Steve Yockey's world premiere at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena. It's a modern mash-up of the myth of the Minotaur with a touch of Icarus' melting wings thrown in for good measure.

Yockey's take on this classic Greek story is really quite clever. He flips the point of view, this time telling the side of the much maligned Minotaur, Asterius. Keeping Asterius company in his prison are Icarus and a trio of blind women on lighted, suspended swings upstage right. The three are decked out in unique but matching ivory lace outfits that feel like a particularly hip Victorian garden party.

Now, here's the moment where I usually launch into a bit of context. Normally, I'd tell you how the Minotaur got there, the silver thread, the hollow wooden copulating cow, you know, all the juicy original details. Trouble is, if you know all this, the play is going to feel a little light because -- while the roles of protagonist and antagonist have swapped -- the dramatic tension and drive is largely built around discovering those key story points.

The challenge of the Minotaur as a central character is he doesn't really do a whole lot but wait. Now, there are remarkable plays about waiting -- Waiting for Godot of course and No Exit -- but the drive of these plays is less about the waiting itself and more about the waiting as a window into the character's souls. The Minotaur can't find a way out of his predicament and playwright Yockey can't seem to find a way into his soul. Yonkey seems fascinated by the fatalism of the Minotaur's plight but he never figures out how to drive that fascination into action. Until the ultimate scene, the Minotaur's central motivation is figuring out why his mom won't visit him. But this yearning for mommy, rather than revealing more about what makes a Minotaur tick, is just the conceit for telling the myth.

ladies.jpgThe closest the piece comes to real dramatic action is a confrontation between the Minotaur and the three-woman chorus. In this writing, Yonkey has found a wonderfully complicated overlapping dialogue that's matched with a beautiful physical language -- in some weird way it feels a little like sign language. Words take on signs and the signs accumulate through repetition until the women's speaking becomes a gestural dance. You feel as if the three women become a single voice for a complicated, conflicted creature. It's not only the best writing but the most startling and original writing in Heavier than...

While it's fun to look at, Heavier than... ends where it really should begin: with a Minotaur struggling against fate rather than simply discovering it.

Heavier than... plays at the Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena through August 21.

For info on the show text the word "curtain" to 69866 and join the conversation at

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

Banner image: Nick Ballard in Heavier than..., photo by Ed Krieger, Boston Court