Friday, April 4, 2008


Known for her adaptations of timeless works, such as The Arabian Nights or Ovid's Metamorphosis, Mary Zimmerman turned her sights to the ancient story of Jason and the Argonaut. Back in January we went with eager anticipation to see her latest redaction, this time staged by The Shakespeare Theatre Company. I walked away disappointed: the show, while good, had none of the polish or visual ingenuity of Metamorphosis, which we had seen in New York several years ago.

We saw Argonautika fairly early in the run, and it felt underrehearsed: entrances and exits were sloppy and some technical cues were missed. Movement-based theatre needs especially to be sharp. I was also disappointed with the poor handling of the language. Several actors treated their lines like a casual afterthought, not an essential part of the show, again, a problem I often encounter in theatre based more on movement than script.

Casting actors to fulfill an ideological aim is common these days. One sees, for instance, all-male versions of Sondheim's Company or race-reversed productions of Othello. I don't object to the practice but rather to the assumption that one must be pounded to get the point. Do we really need to see a white Othello and a black Iago to divine the complexities of race in the play? Can Bobby's reluctance to marry at the end of Company only be explained in terms of repressed homosexuality? Zimmerman, alas, was so determined to make goddesses central to her retelling of Jason's story that she cast an absolutely colorless actor in the role. His line readings were flat and without affect, as were those of the men who accompany him on the journey. The women playing the goddesses were, by contrast, energetic, funny, smart, and sexy, dominating the stage figuratively and literally (many of their scenes take place on a platform overlooking the exploits of the bland males). Okay, we get it: goddesses rule, not masculine heroics.  Zimmerman clearly wants us to rethink this ancient tale; rather than "Jason and the Argonauts," she's giving us "Jason, the hapless plaything of Hera and Athena," with the usual philippic on the evils of empire, colonies, and warfare.  

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