In watching Steve Yockey’s new play Heavier Than… at the Boston Court I was taken back to a production I saw in college of Robert Lowell’s Prometheus Bound.
Robert Lowell was known as the father of confessional poetry and Yockey seems to me to be a descendant of this famous poet. Heavier Than… is at times poetic, though the playwright also uses the vernacular to make his point and to color this tale of the Minotaur with a certain contemporary sheen. The play also struck me as having a certain raw and even confessional flavor.
Lowell’s Prometheus was infused with his own torturous and conflicted personality. Similarly, it seemed to me that Yockey’s treatment of Asterius represents very personal issues of sexual identity and conflicts with one’s mother. Without knowing the playwright I couldn’t say that these themes come from his own life, but they have the ring of lived truth.
Asterius is the half-man, half-bull doomed to spend his life in the Cretan labyrinth, an elaborate maze-like lair designed by Daedalus and his son Icarus (who is a character in Heavier Than…). Placed there by his human father, King Minos, Asterius is the product of a White Bull mating with Minos’ wife Pasiphae. Pasiphae nursed him as a child but when he became ferocious put him in the labyrinth. Every seven years men were sent into the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur but instead were killed and eaten by the creature.
Eventually, Asterius’ sister, Ariadne, falls in love with Theseus, one of the men sent to kill her brother, and she shows him the way into the maze, where he kills Asterius.
Playwright Yockey adds his own version of the story, in which Asterius is a lonely guy who is tired of the killing and just wants to see his mother, whom he idolizes. Icarus is a rather effeminate guy who visits the Minotaur and wants to “get close to him” even if it means being brutalized (a not-so-subtle S & M subplot). Icarus tells Asrerius that he loves him, but when he falls from the sky having flown too close to the sun, the bull is devastated.
Icarus has also told him his mother isn’t what she seems, and persuades Asterius to get his three chorus women to show him the truth. The truth is that his mother wants him to die so she can get rid of the guilt. So Asterius decides to let himself be killed.
This is an interesting retelling of the story (there are other versions). I have two objections. First is the characterization of Icarus as a twink. Second, the decision by the playwright and perhaps the director and actor to make Asterius a decidedly contemporary hunk. Unlike in the Lowell play referenced above, in which the cow Io appears, all classicism is lost. This might be in the casting or just the lack of classical training on the part of the actors and director.
A very built Nick Ballard plays Asterius, while Casey Kringlen is Icarus. The chorus members are played by Teya Patt, Katie Locke O’Brien, and Ashanti Brown, who are quite effective in their roles. Laura Howard is the faithless sister Ariadne. Pasiphae is played, with an evident classicism, by the excellent Jill Van Velzer. Abigail Deser is the director and the magnificent set of stone is by Kurt Boetcher. Robert Prior is responsible for the costume design, wings, horns, and shadow puppets.
Heavier Than… will play at the Theatre@Boston Court until Aug. 21.