Early in Synchronicity Theatre's The Minotaur, a young woman wonders, "What do you think I should do with my life? I have so many options!" She's asking the wrong person. In fact, she's not even asking a person: Ariadne (Rachel Frawley) is addressing a monster (Tony Larkin), a half-man, half-bull who happens to be her brother. The Minotaur shows little sympathy for her uncertainty, as he's imprisoned in an inescapable labyrinth, doomed by his nature to be a ravenous cannibal, and fated by the gods to be slain by a hero. The Minotaur's options are few.
A joint world premiere with Washington, D.C.'s Rorschach Theatre, The Minotaur joins seemingly countless other new plays that revisit classic myths and fairy tales through the prism of contemporary lifestyles. Where a show like Georgia Shakespeare's Metamorphoses (which gets a remount next summer) hews close to the basics of the original tales, playwright Anna Ziegler injects modern-day humor and millennial references into an archetypal legend, with mixed results. But Synchronicity's Minotaur, directed by Rachel May, builds to a powerful, surprising take on destiny and free will that proves relevant for today's audiences.
As a substitute for a Greek chorus, the play presents a rabbi, a priest, and a lawyer (Suehyla El-Attar, Nicholas Tecosky, and Anthony Goolsby, respectively) who not only provide the background to the myth of Ariadne and the Minotaur, but also insert wry commentary. When they mention that Ariadne's father, the king of Minos, wanted to sacrifice a heaven-sent bull to show his devotion to the gods, the chorus adds that "re-gifting" didn't used to be a social faux pas. The trio provides some bawdy slapstick as well, such as sequence in which the king's wife (Tecosky) hides in a hilariously fake wooden cow to seduce the divine bull and, later, spawn the Minotaur.
As the Minotaur's sister, Ariadne's not just a lovelorn princess, but also a restless young woman with an Internet connection. "We met in an online chat room for royals," she says of hero Theseus (Brandon Partrick), the man of action fated to kill the monster and whisk Ariadne away. Frawley makes Ariadne a likably self-conscious heroine worthy of a good romantic comedy, although bookended sequences with Theseus and Ariadne writing letters to each other bring the action to a halt.
Ariadne and the Minotaur have a strange Beauty and the Beast-style friendship that involves playing Connect Four in the labyrinth, but she's willing to sacrifice her monstrous brother to escape from her home and find love. Greek myths seldom go for "happily ever after" endings, however, and The Minotaur explores the idea of whether people really have choices or simply follow the same cycles of mistakes.
Wearing human clothes and a horned mask that leaves most of his face unobstructed, Larkin gives a fascinating performance as the Minotaur, poisonously bitter yet more perceptive about human nature than the show's other characters. When the Minotaur describes how he fell in love with one of his prospective victims yet found himself unable to overcome his savage nature, the angry character takes on a tragic dimension. With this sequence, Ziegler's play seems to break through the frivolousness of the chorus' humor and the young lovers' romance to find a deeper level of meaning and emotional connection. Synchronicity's The Minotaur turns out to be no bum steer.