Review: Minotaur (Young People’s Theatre)

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The Greek myth is given a thoughtful, sophisticated, age-appropriate retelling at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre

Minotaur (at the Young People’s Theatre) is a big project with even bigger goals. Playwright Keven Dyer explores mythology and legend, destiny, family, identity, and trust, and the effect is not entirely unlike being trapped in a labyrinth: the plot turns and swerves and convolutes, piling on top of itself until one can’t help but feel a little lost. Where are we supposed to look? What are we meant to understand? Where does this tunnel lead?

But don’t be put off: Dyer’s script is richer than this. He does his young audience the kindness of assuming that–again, like Theseus–they’ll find their own way, cobbling together what they’ll understand, asking and exploring the questions which interest the most, latching onto the symbols and messages which speak to them. And while his labyrinth is filled with monsters and menace, he’s left us with no dead ends. Everywhere leads to somewhere else, and when the paths eventually converge, the payoff for persevering through these twisted halls makes the journey more than worthwhile for grown-ups as well as young people.

This script can be heavy at times, but the experience is lightened considerably by YPT’s outstanding acting company. Karen Robinson makes delightful work of Pasiphae, an otherworldly agent of chaos and destiny who could easily become a mere wild-eyed cloak-flapping villain, but who Robinson elevates to an entirely-credible full-on force of nature; Cyrus Lane’s Periphites is a wonderful full-range performance, as memorable as comic relief as he is as a dangerous thug or a frightened child; but Bahareh Yaraghi’s Ariadne is, in my view, the strongest of the lot, successfully blending playfulness, wisdom and backbone while also navigating some of the myth’s most treacherous and plot-hole-filled waters.

Director Alan Dilworth’s willingness to let Dyer’s script all hang out was a risk, but it’s one which pays off. This production is rich with symbolism and imagery, all the better to both hold the attention of the audience and help them parse their own thoughts. The absence of an easy emotional payoff–even the upbeat ending feels like a punch to the guts–can be disorienting, but this play is meant to disorient. The evening doesn’t end with a heartwarming reconciliation, a conquest, a defeat or a new discovery; it ends hours later, in a coffee shop or a classroom or right before bedtime, as the final pieces of the puzzle click into place and we exit our own private labyrinths.

Dilworth’s labyrinth is, incidentally, filled with sensory pleasures. Robin Fisher’s modular costumes–and the modularity is itself a tremendous achievement!–are most impressive, especially Pasiphae’s modest yet imaginative fairytale Fauntleroy suit. Fight Director Simon Fon and Movement Consultant Thomas Morgan Jones have collaborated to deliver impressive and moving sequences; I particularly enjoyed a petty swabble between petty thugs, while the kids really got a kick out of the mid-show 28-nephew smackdown. And Set Designer Jung-Hye Kim and Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell both have some tricks up their sleeves, especially when they whip out a massive prop (and major late-show effect!) which cannot be described without utterly spoiling it.

Minotaur is the best kind of TYA: intelligent, visually-stunning, well-acted theater which asks probing and important questions, yet never condescends. The playwright and director simply assume that young people are able to grapple with these complex and deep themes, and play with that in mind. The effect is rewarding, enlightening, and–on occasion–downright breathtaking.

Details

  • Minotaur plays the Young People’s Theatre (165 Front St. East, near Front and Lower Sherbourne) through April 13, 2014.
  • Performances run Tuesdays through Sundays; showtimes vary, see website for details.
  • Ticket prices vary from $15 to $24; group and first-week discounts available; one performance is PWYC; see website for details.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416.862.2222), or in-person at the YPT box office.
  • Please be advised that this production uses fog and haze effects.
  • Please be advised that this production features frank depictions of violence and warfare. There is no actual or simulated gore.

Photograph of the company (L -> R, Jeffrey Wetsch, Cyrus Lane, Karen Robinson and Jakob Ehman) by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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