Sometimes a play’s parts are larger than its sum. That’s the case with the divergent stories woven through A Maze, a remarkably well-acted show about celebrity, its entrapments, and the nature of intellectual property. As nonlinear narratives go, A Maze is relatively easy to keep straight. That’s a credit to smooth directing by Grady Weatherford and actors who convincingly inhabit multiple roles. You always know who’s who. And while you may not always understand what’s going on, you always feel this play is going somewhere interesting.
Act 1’s action rotates between three sets of characters dealing with thematically connected crises. There’s Jessica (Jenny Donovan), a 17-year-old girl who has just escaped from eight years of Jaycee Lee Dugard-style captivity, and is preparing for her tell-all interview. Next we’re introduced to Paul and Oksana (Andrew Ferlo and Sara Barker), a disheveled pair clutching each other in the lobby of Desert Palms recovery center. Turns out they’re the front couple of a rock band—think Thurston and Kim, maybe?—and he’s gotta go to rehab, otherwise they’ll never put out another album. Then there’s a pair of medieval monarchs: The queen (Robin Covington) is pregnant, and to protect their future heirs from marauders, the king (Francisco Reinoso) builds a labyrinth around the castle. Or rather, he commissions a snow wolf to build a labyrinth.
OK, so that third narrative might be a little too Chronicles of Narnia, but cultural correlations make all of these characters relatable. Watching Act 1 is like watching a special episode of Inside Edition for theatergoers who would never cop to reading Us Weekly. It’s an especially a guilty pleasure to watch Ferlo as the overly mellow guitarist and Barker as the lead singer who is apparently free from narcotics but not neuroses. Likewise the battle of manipulative wits when Donovan faces off against the TV talk show host she picked to reveal her exclusive kidnapping story. Then, just before intermission, a sinister a-ha moment sends theatergoers out into the lobby seeking coffee to keep their heads clear, and certainly not an alcoholic beverage to fuzz things up. (Though those are available, too.)
As the three narratives converge in Act 2, A Maze takes a few wrong turns; mainly, playwright Rob Handel falls back on coincidences that feel too forced. He also turns swaths of dialogue into aesthetic arguments, like having Paul holler at his manager, “Making art is really, really hard. You don’t get to write The Metamorphosis if you’re trying to be happy and…figure out where you want to go to dinner tonight.”
It’s a clever line (and not the only one), but it comes off as heavy-handed in a play that otherwise mocks the culture of celebrity. The penultimate scenes include a flashback of Donovan wrestling with her captor, and members of sunglass-clad rock band, called the Pathetic Fallacy, going on TV to discuss the inspiration for a seminal album.
A Maze has been staged just twice before, in New York last year and at a festival in Portland, Ore. Rorschach was smart to pick the script up, and smarter still to cast so many sharp young actors. Last month, both Ferlo and Covington were great as starry-eyed kid conservatives in the Fringe comedy Young Republicans. Local directors: Please keep casting them. While the storylines in A Maze may occasionally veer of course, the performances never do.