The theater group Britt Espressivo has taken a definitive piece of postmodern literature and turned it into an interactive play that physically plops the audience inside a labyrinth with a manbeast, in its theatrical adaptation of an Argentine genius’s literary adaptation of the Greek myth of the Minotaur.
In the original myth, recorded by Greek scribe Apollodorus around 150 BC, a bullheaded monster was born to Queen Pasiphae of Crete after she mated with a bull. As punishment, King Minos stuck him in a maze and offered his Athenian enemies, youths and maids, as regular sacrifices to satisfy the Minotaur’s animalistic appetite. The bull-man, named Asterion, was eventually destroyed by the hero Theseus.
Some 2,000 years later, Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges wrote the page-and-a-half short story “La Casa de Asterión” (“The House of Asterion”) in which he injects his writhing intellect into the half-man, halfbull, in a first person account that takes the reader inside the head of the bull, inside the labyrinth.
The interactive play aspires to great heights, trying to bring to a few dozen audience members a work layered with history and metaphor sown by one of the 20th century’s great writers.
In his story, Borges digs deep into postmodern man’s existential plight, and pulls out a beast of a being who has used his technology to free himself from necessity, but steps out of modernity only to find a new prison of endless choice and infinite want. Thus, the labyrinth.
The Britt Espressivo play, directed by David Korish, instead focuses largely on how technology has perhaps continued to expand our labyrinth in the information age, a concept that Borges, who died in 1986, was only beginning to consider. The Internet, digital images and an overload of stimuli are all issues that have certainly reshaped man’s consciousness, and are themes upon which the adaptation plays upon heavily.
In doing so, the Britt group has grabbed Borges’ work and tossed it into the 21st century with a fresh twist. Digital images used in the play also shine light on the similarities between the modern and individualistic, even suburban, lifestyle and a labyrinth. But beyond the sweaty, lunatic Minotaur romping around onstage and in between – and in one misstep on top of – audience members, there is little new interpretation or insight into the Minotaur myth itself, and Borges’ historical understanding of man is understated.
The group’s interpretation plays up a “Beauty and the Beast” theme that’s like a cute detour on one of the Amazon’s many tributaries. It feels like a tiny, almost insignificant capillary of Borges’ work, a departure from the work’s existentialist aorta.
Any time you reinterpret a great work, something of its meaning is bound to be lost, as happens in this play. Still, the group’s version of one of Borges’ greatest and most concise works is a triumph in many ways.
It engages the audience – members of which laughed out loud and even shrieked at one point – and has some gripping sound effects orchestrated by a sound manager who can be seen on stage groaning into a microphone and splashing his hand into a bowl of water, among other minimalist instruments at his disposal. Actor Jerry Ortiz plays the lost, confused Minotaur convincingly, though in his attempts to charge around like a bull, he at times comes across more like a dancing goat.
A question-and-answer period with the cast at the end of the play at first seemed a bit forced, but ended up turning into a constructive way to digest the work and its meaning and/or meaninglessness.
At its worst, it is a frantic guy wearing a cheesy bull mask galumphing around, huffing and puffing all over a confused audience in a dark room, failing to grasp the all-too-Nietzschean, frighteningly Sartrean, gaspingly Dionysian spirit of Borges’ work.
At its best, and more often than not, it reminds audience members that they are just beasts proud of their big brains, charging around aimlessly in their labyrinths, wrestling with their anguish and boredom.
At its very best, it blurs the line between waking and sleeping, reality and myth.
One thing’s for sure: if you’re going to see it, read the story first.
But don’t try to write anything about it; that would be about as meaningful as writing a review of a theatrical adaptation of a literary adaptation of a myth.
Besides, as Asterion says in Borges’ work, he’s “not interested in what men can transmit to other men; like the philosopher, I think nothing is communicable with the art of writing.”
‘La Casa de Asterión’
What: A theatrical adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story told from the point of view of the Minotaur of Greek mythology. In Spanish.
When: Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m., through Oct. 28.
Where: Teatro Dionisio at Café Britt in Barva de Heredia, 500 meters north and 400 west of the Auto Mercado. Secure parking is available.
Admission: ¢4,000 ($7.70); ¢2,500 ($4.80) for students.
Reservations: Call 277-1600, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.brittespressivo.com.