What’s a classic myth without goddesses in breastplates, heroes in bare chests and sandals? And of course, acrobatic women dangling from the ceiling, macho men singalongs and skeleton puppets in full battle cry…okay, that last part is new.
By Melanie Hooks
In fact, almost everything about A Noise Within’s newest show, “Argonautika,” feels fresh and alive, despite it being a retelling of one of the world’s oldest tales – The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts.
The 2006 script by Mary Zimmerman of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre uses goddess Athena (the fierce Trisha Miller) as a behind-the-scenes insider/narrator, confidante and champion of Jason, a prince on a quest to bring home the Golden Fleece and regain his father’s lost throne, along with some help from her mother Hera (the regal Veralyn Jones).
Miller’s role is not an easy one, having some long beginning expository passages to wade through, but neither she nor the production waste much time on backstory, despite the tricky opening – in the end, a solid choice, since the action begins as soon as the prologue ends. Miller, Jones and company bring the grand expanse of ocean vistas and mythic stakes into the aisles, our very laps, with disarming ease. Athena’s whispers to the men influence versus direct the heroes, and Miller’s wry asides with a ramrod back remind us again and again why a woman of ancient Greece might find the other gender less than charming.
Women as the primary storytellers = fresh step No. 1. Second (and then some) – humor, humor, humor.
You might remember (from either school or Disney) that Hera is no fan of Hercules, the result of one of her husband Zeus’s many affairs with human women. But I’m fairly certain Zimmerman is the first to envision the muscle-bound hero as a dim-witted jock with his own catchphrase (fittingly, his own name). Frederick Stuart as Hercules charmed opening weekend crowds and had the audience chanting right along with his boy-toy Hylas (Richy Storrs) in a perfect blend of machismo and self-serving affection for the younger man. Autumn audiences who enjoyed Stuart as the cynical charmer Lord Henry Wotten in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” will especially enjoy his effortless flip to a rough and ready adventurer, still capable of capturing our hearts with unexpected vulnerability.
(The show loses some of its light-heartedness in the second half, but always regains it when Stuart reappears onstage as Aeetes, the king who holds the Fleece captive.)
Central to the story of course is Jason himself, played as both a solid leader and less-than-reliable lover by Ty Mayberry = fresh step No. 3. Following Hera’s advice, he woos and wins the love of the powerful daughter of Aeetes, Medea (Angela Gulner, who does triple duty as Dryope and a Woman of Lymnos as well). Both Gulner and Mayberry, while physically built as classical ideals, display modern complexities of character more in line with 21st century insights than the ancient “take or be taken” world. Whether this sits well with each audience member or not isn’t really the point. This is a tale that begs questions about the limits of human endurance, not just of body but of spirit. Both Gulner and Mayberry believably soar above their own character’s expectations of themselves and descend to terrible depths, which in the end feels mythic in scope and therefore true to the ancient narrative spirit.
The entire cast excels at expending this incredible energy, from Michael Uribes’s malcontented Meleager to Cassandra Marie Murphy’s Woman of Lemnos who soars above our heads, Cirque du Soleil-style, with charming moments from Marc Leclerc and Murphy as bickering son/mother Eros and Aphrodite. One gets the feeling that every rehearsal was an intense group workout.
The design team, who must also contend with having three shows in rep at once, knocks this one out of the park: Lead Frederica Nascimento, Costumes by Jenny Foldenaur and Associate Dayna L. Lucas, Lighting by Ken Booth, and Sound by Robert Oriol. All must keep the machinery nimble and light and do so, with very little visible stagecraft to distract from the feeling of giants, harpies and ships at sea. As always, the Music Direction by Dr. Melissa Sky-Eagle and Fight Choreography by Kenneth Merckx, Jr., are top notch, and Pasadena audiences are treated to Broadway-quality voices and action. A special nod to Puppet Designer Dillon Nelson for taking on a much-beloved Ray Harryhausen skeleton battle and making it his own, as well as Stage Manager Samantha Sintef for keeping the ropes flying and trap doors springing with no fuss.
You might well leave convinced that anything less than this barely-contained mayhem would feel disappointing. As director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott says, “I think it’s fair to say the play is wildly theatrical.” Right on the money, and well worth yours.
• Written by Mary Zimmerman
• Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
• Click to see full list of Artists.
• Cast: Ty Mayberry, Trisha Miller, Veralyn Jones:
• Click to see full list of Cast.
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill, Pasadena, CA 91107
• Through May 6
General admission: $25 – $78 (discount tickets for some dates available @ goldstar.com)
Purchase tickets here.
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