Best of Plenty: The Minotaur is a magnetic monster.
Best of Plenty: The Minotaur is a magnetic monster.

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The Minotaur is the best reason to see The Minotaur, Anna Ziegler’s arch update of the Greek myth of the (literally) bullheaded bastard who lived in a labyrinth. In the second half of a “joint world premiere” from Rorschach Theatre and Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, the play feels like it wants to push its self-referential ruminations on the purpose of stories and characters and prophecies and legends further, or at least make them funnier, than it ultimately manages. (Which is not to say Ziegler’s jokes about Facebook or the New York Times weddings page are not funny.) But in David Zimmerman’s bearded, fuming, matter-of-fact beast, director Randy Baker has found a creature magnetic enough to rivet even when he’s merely stalking the perimeter of the in-the-round performance space while less electrifying characters talk about how (and in this existential gloss, why) to kill him.

These are the Minotaur’s half-sister, Princess Ariadne (an emoticon-using tween, here) and Theseus, whom you may recall volunteered to be one of the seven men left (along with seven women) to their fate in the maze, pledging to slay the beast rather than allow himself to be eaten. Ariadne has visitation privileges (and possibly sexual-boundary issues) with her half-brother in the labyrinth, where their endless, one-sided games of Connect Four fail to soothe him, though they seem to be good therapy for Ariadne. “I am not in touch with my primal self!” she laments. “I get manicures! My own menstruation disgusts me!” The petite Sara Dabney Tisdale brings a fun ease to Ariadne’s continuous pivot between sunny self-deception and brutal self-insight—you know, adolescence.

Set designer David C. Ghatan has webbed up one of the Atlas complex’s two smallish “lab” spaces with a lattice of string low enough to pluck with your finger, representing the ball of yarn a lovestruck Ariadne gives to Theseus so he’ll be able to retrace his steps once his grim deed is done. That it’s impossible to tell where the supposedly single string starts or stops might be the show’s most eloquent postmodern touch.

Theseus’ unquestioning embrace of his heroic destiny comes in for some wry interrogation here. The compact, athletic Josh Sticklin has shown himself to be a utility player before (particularly in Irish playwright Rosemary Jenkinson’s single-actor plays), but his Theseus is pitched as a swaggering dope little burdened by self-awareness—he’s more disquieted by the possibility of a monogamous future with Ariadne than by the prospect of taking a life. “I didn’t think you’d be able to talk!” he tells the Minotaur. “In this version, I am,” his quarry answers coolly. Theseus is roundly outmatched, but the Minotaur falls because that’s the way we need for the story to go. We’re happiest when Zimmerman & Co. try to stave off the inevitable as long as possible.