Dallas — Anna Ziegler’s 2012 play The Minotaur—which wittily feathers the contemporary question of who tells one’s story and how it’s told, into the classicism of Greek myth—isn’t a title that would seem out of place on several of North Texas’ professional theaters’ seasons. It is a surprise, though, that it’s playing the in-the-round space at Theatre Three, one of our oldest theaters.
Or, not surprising anymore. It’s the first show of the first season selected by artistic director Jeffrey Schmidt, who is only the second official leader of the 55-year-old company. The first, co-founder Jac Alder, died in 2015. In my two decades of seeing theater in DFW, Theatre Three has been one of the least adventurous of the professional theaters, despite—or maybe because of—having one of the larger budgets. In fairness, looking back at the theater’s production history, there have been plenty of bold programming choices, from Jean Genet to Caryl Churchill to Weill/Anderson’s Lost in the Stars.
That’s not to say that Schmidt’s season—which also includes Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters, Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and a revival of a local vaudeville piece—is all that “edgy,” to rehash an overused descriptor. But you wouldn’t have seen an entire season of insert-synonym-for-edgy titles in previous eras, not to mention a Theatre Too! season of plays by local writers. Although, given Alder’s love for new musicals—T3 was the first local theater to do works like Side Show, Once on This Island, [title of show], LaChiusa’s The Wild Party and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, plus the professional premiere for the locally born On the Eve—Schmidt’s musical choice of the terrific The Adding Machine is one I’m surprised T3 hadn’t already done. (Schmidt has promised an end to big, flashy musicals, and the long-running I Love You, You’re Perfect…Now Change!, so there’s that.)
His season lineup, and his spellbinding production of The Minotaur, which he directed and scenic designed, reaffirm that he was the right choice to take this theater into the future. Schmidt, who has directed and designed many shows at T3 and elsewhere, has always been a quiet visionary, which is maybe the best kind. Now he can be louder; he has the bullhorn.
The Minotaur throws curveballs at the myth of the man-bull creature (played by Darren McElroy) who is confined to a labyrinth. Cora Grace Winstead is his half-sister Ariadne, and Kyle Igneczi is Theseus, the hero with whom she falls in love, and who kills the title beast. Or does he? This is a whimsical retelling. The not-so-traditional Greek Chorus consists of three characters that sound like the set-up for a joke: A Rabbi (Renee Jones), a Priest (Randy Pearlman) and a Lawyer (David Lugo).
Ziegler sets the play in “any time, any place,” and it’s populated with modern gadgets and references. For instance, Ariadne met Theseus online. GreekChat.com, maybe? Like many contemporary playwrights, she’s not so detailed with the stage directions, giving the director and designers room to interpret and play.
Schmidt’s set has a large sandbox in the middle with two catty-cornered streams, one that leads to the labyrinth of cloth panels that look like sheets on clotheslines, and serve as sails when Theseus arrives on this island. The other leads to a chain link fence that extends off stage. For most of the play, they are all trapped in the sandbox—the Minotaur and Ariadne pass the time by playing Connect Four, with her reaching through the bars at the mouth of the labyrinth to drop her discs into a column.
Susan Yanofsky’s costumes pay homage to the ancient Greek with anachronistic touches (as suggested in the script), especially for the chorus; and the masks are fantastic. Lighting (Tristan Decker) and sound (Marco Salinas) add to the playful otherworldliness.
Ariadne is fascinated with finding the meaning of love (“Do you think you can have a memory of being in love without ever having been in it? And is being in love always about getting left behind?”), and Winstead, new to Theatre Three, is curious and fearless. As Theseus, Igneczi looks the part of a man who has had every advantage, and conveys the psychological struggle of figuring out what it means to be a hero. McElroy is brooding and funny—as if he knows how his story ends and is cool with it. He seems more concerned about Ariadne and Theseus’ ending.
Lugo, Pearlman and Jones work together like a chamber music trio, acting as if they know the joke—until it’s turned around on them. They relish in Ziegler’s language, which somehow makes the stiffness of Greek drama sound conversational. The Chorus always knows the how and why of the story’s unfolding; that’s their role. “There’s no happy ending. This isn’t a fable. And myths end badly,” the Lawyer says early on.
I won’t spoil whether he’s right. Let’s just say that in The Minotaur, their time to control the story is not now.
Who is in control is Jeffrey Schmidt, who has given Theatre Three its most successful production since the company’s 2005 staging of another inventive take on myth, Metamorphoses.