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A CurtainUp Chicago Review
Argonautika,The Voyage Of Jason And The Argonauts
Over 20 years ago dreamer/director Mary Zimmerman transformed The Odyssey into an adventure-pageant; its storytelling whole proved even greater than the dazzling stage pictures that painted the parts. Lightning has struck again with Argonautika, her latest Lookingglass Theatre Company triumph.
In 150 minutes Zimmerman, famed for The Arabian Nights and Metamorphoses, employs ingenious props and the daunting athleticism of a 14-member cast to transform a legend about heroes embarking on Greece's first great voyage into a lesson on glory's transience and fame's bitter fruit. We're moved from Colchis to Iraq quicker than we can resist.
Performed on a huge runway set with an upper platform reserved for the gods, the epic proves vintage Zimmerman — with imposing processions, fierce lighting changes, subliminal sound effects, a ship's rigging doubling as acrobatic high wires, and scale-shifting contrasts between miniature replicas and outsized puppets. Hersometimes irreverent script hews true to Jason's argosy as this reluctant quester assembles the heroes of Greece, like boastful Heracles and scheming Meleager, to seek the Golden Fleece. (Their rap-style roll call is as infectious as St. Vitus' dance.) With goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena combining supernatural strategies with the resilience and wiliness of these renown-seeking Greeks, the "Argo" overcomes Boreas' windstorms, the carnivorous women of Lemnos, crushing rocks, a boxing giant, and several near-mutinies.
After so many delirious adventures, the second act sobers up the saga with the imminently tragic tale of how a teen aged Medea, smitten with Jason by Eros' arrow, betrays kin and country to help him escape with the fleece. Jason refuses to abandon this accused witch but we know too well what betrayal will follow his last loyalty to a dangerous woman. Zimmerman then delivers sad glimpses of the Argonauts' unheroic ends, pointedly and topically comparing them to the dashed hopes of all foreign adventures.
Finally, Argonautika soars into apotheosis as one by one these once and future wanderers are transformed into constellations. It's as much immortality as anyone should hope for.
Ryan Artzberger's Jason almost gets swallowed up in all the multi-faceted make-believe that surrounds him. But then Zimmerman's productions have always relied on Chicago ensemble work at its most selflessly communal. Still, Atley Loughridge's haunted Medea reinvents love's suicidal sacrifices, cutting herself off from two worlds at once as she murders for the man she's made to love. Her fate injects tragedy into an adventure as you watch "Argonautika" grow up before your eyes.
Editor's Note: CurtainUp has reviewed a number of Zimmerman's productions. To read our review of her biggest "hit" go here
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide