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Theater review: 'Heavier than...' at the Theatre @ Boston Court

July 27, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Heavier than 

Plays about the Minotaur have been out of fashion for at least two millenniums, but that doesn’t stop playwright Steve Yockey from reintroducing the character of Asterius in his curiously compelling new drama “Heavier Than…,” now receiving its world premiere at the Theatre @ Boston Court.

A few things are working in favor of this theatrical long-shot. First, there’s the masculine beauty and brooding sensitivity of shirtless Nick Ballard, who plays the half-man, half-bull creature with a James Dean scowl, camera-ready six-pack and dapper pair of horns. Then there’s Abigail Deser’s stylish staging, which revels in the play's springy non-naturalism while never stomping on its tender heart. And finally there’s Yockey’s spryly inventive take on an ancient myth, a revisionist approach mixing Classical gravitas with campy humor and post-Freudian angst.

OK, the family psychology involving the aloofness of Asterius’ mother, Pasiphae, (Jill Van Velzer, impressively aristocratic) and the flirty, homicidal selfishness of his half-sister Ariadne (a scarily effervescent Laura Howard) is probably the least original aspect of “Heavier Than…." At times, it seems that maybe all Asterius really needs is one of those “It Gets Better” videos for bullied gay youths, only this one targeted to bovine young adults sick to death of their violent reputations. But how can you resist the larky way Icarus (an adorably bratty Casey Kringlen) flies in on handmade wings to visit his best bestial buddy, on whom he has a not-so-secret (and unabashedly masochistic) crush?

Heavier than 2 Kurt Boetcher’s eye-catching scenic design — think of a quarry redone by an ingenious sculptor for Pottery Barn — creates a plausible space for a happily implausible play to unfold. Robert Prior enhances the persuasiveness of the visual palette through his costumes, video and shadow puppetry and wearable props (those wings would sell out in seconds in West Hollywood!)

Choruses are usually ruinous for contemporary productions, but the trio of sunglasses-wearing, fate-glimpsing female entities (played by Ashanti Brown, Teya Patt and Katie Locke O’Brien), who reveal to Asterius scenes of the home life he’s pining for, is a kooky delight. Best of all, Ballard’s inward intensity makes it possible to have a catharsis over cattle — or at least some deeply human mash-up of the species.

Now if only Yockey would reconsider his lousy title.

-- Charles McNulty\charlesmcnulty

"Heavier Than...," Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 21. $32. (626) 683-6883 or Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Photo: Nick Ballard, top, with Ashanti Brown, Teya Patt and Katie Locke O'Brien in the background. Bottom: Ballard, Jill Van Velzer and Laura Howard. Credit: Ed Krieger