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Chicago-based director Mary Zimmerman gets whaled on sometimes for infusing her shows with a generic wonder, so maybe it’s a backhanded compliment to note that her Argonautika doesn’t inspire much. A (loose) account of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, the show pauses often between Iolchus and Cochis for bits of tart anti-imperialist commentary, knowing feminist irony, and generic self-referential smartassery. It’s a postmodern sort of myth, and depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing, your mileage may vary.
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Zimmerman’s knack for the visual is intact, certainly: Argonautika plays out on a spare wooden box, with ropes to suggest rigging and doors that open to hint at Hades or disgorge the parade of heroes who’ll crew the Argo. Goddesses stalk through now and again, self-involved and silly, fouling things up as often as not; Lisa Tejero’s Hera gets most of the laughs, not least because her gown flares up about the shoulders when she’s offended, giving her the look of an alarmed iguana.
In fact the director’s sense of humor, refreshingly, is rather more in evidence than it was in 2004’s lyrically wistful Pericles. Check her Kraken, conjured with a sea of green cloth and two softball-size eyes, or the lurching puppet giant who, once trounced, goes shuffling woefully off stage right, barely half the man he used to be.
But Jake Suffian’s decent, relatively inert Jason, alas, makes a squishy center of attention—a deliberate choice, one gathers, so as to suggest the potentially heroic, and the potentially havoc-making, in all of us.
Things pick up a little in Act 2, with Medea all bloody from the visibly painful arrow Eros has pinned her with—and without a strong focus for the rising action, all the pissy potentates, strutting heroes, pining princesses, and snide goddesses don’t really hang together. Argonautika, alas, feels in the end like a long, slow sail to not much of anywhere.