If you, as a child, spent many an hour considering the varied tellings of myths and legends of the ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, then Boston Court’s “Heavier Than” is definitely for you. Making its world premiere in Pasadena this last weekend, Steve Yockey’s play is swift (75 minutes or so without an intermission), flirty and witty, but ultimately heartbreaking.
Yockey covers a lot of ground in this re-telling of part of the minotaur legend. We recall that this so-called monster, Asterius (Nick Ballard) was the son of a queen and even an animal needs love. Asterius is a handsome lad clad only in ragged long shorts. He might easily fit into Lady Gaga’s entourage for her horned “Born This Way” performances. His wonderful golden bull’s horns (by costume designer Robert Prior) are the only thing marking him as not entirely human .
For company he has three women–our Greek chorus (Ashanti Brown, Teya Patt and Katie Locke O’Brien), but also the three fates. They tell him the truth, or at least a version of the truth. Our hero Asterius has been imprisoned in the labyrinth since he was three years old. Away from his mother’s side, he lost his temper and, as most three year olds do, he had an anger management issue. Unlike most three year olds, however, he had the strength of a three-year-old bull and killed a few people. To keep him under control, Asterius was put in a maze build by Daedalous (who also doesn’t appear). This part of the story is delicately told using shadow puppets (also by Prior)
Every seven years, Asterius gets a visit from seven Athenian youths sent as a tribute to his stepfather, King Minos. As expected, he kills them because life in those times were brutal.
Between these battles, he dreams of his mother, Pasiphae (Jill Van Velzer). From time to time, his half-sister, Ariadne (Laura Howard) visits him. Daedalous’ son, Icarus (Casey Kringlen), is also banished into the labyrinth lest Daedalous give away the secret of the queen, Asterius’ mother, or the labyrinth itself.
If there is a villain or villains in this play, we never see them. We only hear about them: Theseus and King Minos. The minotaur, Asterius (Nick Ballard), is the result of the king’s hubris. Minos was given a beautiful white bull as a gift from Poseidon. In tribute, he agreed to sacrifice the bull to the god of the sea, but in his arrogance, he substituted another bull.
As a result, the gods punished him through his wife–Poseidon asked Aphrodite to inflict the queen with a love for that special bull. The unnatural love affair resulted in Asterius.
The seven-year sacrifice was a result of a war victory of Crete over Athens–in some versions of the tale because of the treacherous death of Minos’ eldest son. In time, this had to come to an end with Theseus and a little love connection between Theseus and Ariadne.
Yet the gods weren’t quite done with Minos and his family. Ariadne will not be happy with Theseus. Minos will pursue Daedalus. Those are other stories.
Yockey focuses on the minotaur who had no quarrel with the gods nor men. He loves his mother and it’s her image that sustains his sanity. He will be thirty; won’t she visit him on such a momentous birthday? He is the object of Icarus’ sly boyish affection.
Although we know that things will not turn out well for either Icarus or Asterius, director Abigail Deser makes us care for both young men. Both yearn for love and freedom, but they are weighed down something harder to break than the pull of gravity. What is heavier than a broken heart?
“Heavier than…” continues at the Theatre@Boston Court until 21 August 2011.