Tuesday, August 04, 2015


In her notes to Acme Theatre Company’s production of “Argonautika,” director Maddy Ryen says the story is basically a road-trip tale. Road trips follow essentially the same format — a bunch of buddies get together to go off on adventures, whether by motorcycle (“Easy Rider”), cars (“Blues Brothers”) or maybe on “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.”

This dramedy by Mary Zimmerman, who has been making a name for herself updating many of the old classic stories, gives us Jason, who gathers a bunch of his buddies, hops on a boat and sails off for many adventures. These include chase scenes, battles, sexy babes, a lot of ingested substances, a monster or two to be defeated and a bittersweet, if not quite as expected, return.

This show closes Acme’s 35th season. While I am usually impressed with what a group of young people can do, the closing shows of any season are usually the best, when the newcomers have had a year to hone their skills and learn how it all works. Thus, this show, which seems to have a cast of thousands, doesn’t have a weak performance in the bunch.

One of my perpetual complaints is that not everyone knows about “projection” and dialog is often difficult to hear, but placing the audience on the stage of the Brunelle Theater gives the cast a full house, and makes it almost impossible to miss any line of dialogue in this lively production.

The plot is pretty silly, but I’m sure it meant something to the Greeks at the time. Jason (Trevor Rinzler), the rightful heir to the crown of Thessaly, is sent by one tyrant king, Pelias (Tina Simson, in an amazing beard that looked left over from a Christmas display), to the kingdom of another tyrant, King Aeetes of Colchis (Chris Monheit), to retrieve the golden fleece — which looks like a table mat-sized piece of sheep’s hide, but which is the symbol of authority and kingship.

Pelias expects that Jason will be killed on the journey and thus be no longer a threat to his throne, but the adventurer is assisted by the gods Hera (Callie Miller) and Athena (Meili Monk), who help him and his buddies out of many scrapes.

All of these actors give wonderful performances, with Rinzler the zealous, committed young hero; Simson, her gender hidden by her long beard and white hair, suitably conniving; and Monheit deliciously strong and evil.

Miller is a beautiful Hera, who pledges herself to Jason after he carries her across a stream, while Monk, resplendent in red, the perfect partner to Hera.

All of Jason’s buddies are excited about the upcoming adventure, but head and shoulders among them all — literally and physically — is Ricky Houck as Hercules. He gives a powerful, yet funny performance as a kind of not-too-bright jock whose strength is crucial to the start of the journey. But his devotion to and love for his partner Hylas (Colin French), is beautiful to watch, and painful to experience his later loss.

Houck later becomes the feet to sister Bella Houck as Boreas, the fearsome giant with the huge fists who does battle with Jason.

Sarah Zaragoza-Smith makes an impression as she joins the Argonauts midway through their journey as Dymas, and Mikaela Manzano as the Son of Pelias also brings a bright enthusiasm to the group.
Camila Ortiz is a demure Medea, daughter of Aeetes, before she became the monster we all remember. She is loving toward Jason, after being shot by an arrow from Eros (Elise Turkovich).

Good work by costume designers Cassaundra Wages and Eliza Buchanan for the arrow Medea wears for the rest of the show and for the white gown that gets redder and redder as she appears to bleed for the next several years.

Eden Tomich and Benton Harshaw have designed a beautiful ship for Jason, split in half to allow for fight scenes and an amazing pre-journey chant sequence.

Katie Sanger and Meli Monk provide the original music while Andres De Loera Brust and Wil Forkin’s lighting design is a great help in many scenes.

Though the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece may be one of the oldest tales in the world, it still has a message for today. Though we may not be dealing with monsters, harpies and gods, the story of feuding kings sending their young men off to die for the cause still rings true.

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