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Written and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Center for the Arts-Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

Review by Grace Cavalieri, Special to The Montserrat Review

Mary Zimmerman is my icon for 21st Century Theater. Let me preface this review by saying that I saw her magnificent Ovid adaptations  in “Metamorphoses,” three times in NYC; and then the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s brilliant offering of “Pericles” twice. Each of these pieces braid myth, legend, story, intuition and genius to present a feast for the eyes.  Zimmerman has brought Argonautika to Washington from Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater Company and the arrival has been much anticipated.

For Mary Zimmerman, actors must be physical, actors must be able to fly, and treat magic as if it were an ordinary supper. They must be Shakespearean in scope, Greek Tragedians, and Monty Python spamalots. These contrasting circumstances make for an array of spectacles, and a parade of thrills. In Argonautika, it is all there. The problem is, there is too much of it. Here, the motive and means do not match as they did with Zimmerman’s previous endeavors. 30 minutes cut from this piece will make it perfect, and I have the feeling that all audience members, not only reviewers, can say exactly which minutes can be lost, which speeches are too long, and how and where tension fizzles..

Too much happiness is a bewildering criticism, I admit, yet even imperishable stories have to be crisply told, or they perish in the telling.

Basically, the play is of the timeless legend of Jason and the Argonauts seeking the Golden Fleece. The crew (transforms a stage to a ship as just one of the many theatrical miracles,) and then  proceeds to encounter monsters and dangers, mean kings and things, a sorceress Media, who is shot through with the arrow of Eros, beds with  Jason (on the fleece yet!) -- and lots of other dazzling escapades, aided by puppetry, acrobatics, choreography, hip hop rhythms and stage wizardry that you’ve never seen before. I love all that. Each of us having been children once, praying for magic, are awakened with gratitude by Zimmerman’s gift to adults.

Homer named the ship that Odysseus lost as “ARGO.” Program notes tell us that ARGO translates to “matters to everyone.” And this myth does matter to everyone, for it is the travel through troubled waters for all who seek “the prize,” for all who leave others  behind, with tears, saying “Wait for me,” for all the death and betrayal in the quest for fame, fortune, or the bidding to please a foolish king -- contemporary war not the last thing that comes to mind -- so the essence of the Jason story is very much with us always, as is the everlasting relief that mythology creates an appertenance for our lives. The winds of change in Argonautika are more like gales… hurricanes of possibilities …enhanced by some of the best stage work happening today.

I think there are too many tales woven into this fabric to sustain the energy. All theater is about compression and expansion and Zimmerman lost the elasticity about Act two. The two actors, playing goddesses, Sofia Jean Gomez (Athena, voice of reason) and Lisa Tejero (Hera, the human heart) sustain the play’s language flawlessly. The other actors should have been on mic but I think all that floating through the air and climbing ropes might prohibit it. The voices need to sparkle as much as the rest of the play. A wooly voice in the midst of splendor lessens our affection. Zimmerman has given near perfection on stage before and I believe those who had never seen her other works, would not feel her art burgled, as those of us who come to it with a different mind.

Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece is a tale that is a foundation of Green culture and heritage. It dates to the 10th B.C. (some say earlier.) Three centuries later Valerius Flaccus wrote a Latin version of “Argonautika” and it is partly from this, and other texts, that Mary Zimmerman was inspired to assemble her theater piece, Argonautika.

One cheerful thought came in watching young people in the audience who would never forget seeing mythology this way. Let me add, that the play’s humor, wit, Non-sequiturs, and pop culture asides pepper the show marvelously.  And, having said all I’ve said, I think I’ll go back to see it all again. Argonautika is playing through March 2, 2008.The magic buttons to push for tickets are 202-547-1122.

Grace Cavalieri is a playwright and a poet. She produces/hosts “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress” for public radio.

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