The reclusive Beeson is completely consumed with writing a graphic novel.
It’s an epic, encyclopedic work that makes Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings feel like a breezy beach read by comparison. The process of putting the story to the page has been demanding enough to land Beeson—who sees himself as channeling, rather than creating, the comic—into a rehab facility, one of three diverse settings for Rob Handel’s twisting, nervy play, A Maze, currently being staged by Rorschach Theatre.
Handel’s mysterious play isn’t only concerned with Beeson (Ryan Mitchell), who, while in rehab, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Paul (Andrew Ferlo), a charismatic rock star drying out after a drug binge. A Maze flips between their story and two very different plotlines. One focuses on escaped kidnapping victim Jessica (Jenny Donovan), who’s in the headlines for freeing herself years after she was snatched from the supermarket at age nine. The narrative also floats back in time to a mythological place where a pregnant queen (Robin Covington) waits for her husband (Francisco Reinoso) to finish a sprawling labyrinth that will keep her and her child safe—but from what, we’re not exactly sure. All three stories unfold on a set, designed by Robbie Hayes, that is simple but smart, with a floor constructed from interlocking sections of an actual maze. They’re pulled apart and rearranged as the action of the play proceeds.
A Maze is a play that keeps the audience guessing into the second act, when we finally start to get some answers about how these very different storylines might intersect. Each of the threads is equally engrossing, and Handel cleverly plants little clues in the audience’s subconscious that turn out to be important later in the story. Though director Grady Weatherford gives the action an eerie, uneasy feel, the playwright injects the proceedings with unexpected moments of humor. Handel is adept at conveying with just a few exchanges the history and rapport felt between characters (a warm scene where Paul is driven home from rehab by his on-again, off-again childhood sweetheart Oksana has the characters laughing hysterically when Paul belatedly realizes he’s never seen Oksana behind the wheel of a car before). The play, though, can veer into preachy territory, even when it’s making a valid point, as when Paul and Oksana’s band manager offers an (admittedly funny) rant about why artists don’t deserve special treatment for being assholes.
A Maze is awash in captivating performances. Mitchell makes Beeson, with his overly precise delivery and darting eyes, a fascinating case study. As Oksana, Sara Barker perfectly captures the way certain creative types wear their explosive emotions on their sleeves, while still imbuing her with a sympathetic air. Ferlo plays Paul with an easy, offhand kind of grace. And Jenny Donovan makes us want to learn more about the now-grown Jessica’s motives. What made her escape now, after eight years of captivity, and what kind of person has emerged from such an experience? A Maze doesn’t spell out every answer, but Handel keeps us invested enough to try to figure out his characters even after their stories have wrapped up for the evening.
A Maze is at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through September 9. Running time is approximately two hours and 15 minutes. Tickets ($25) are available via Rorschach Theatre’s website.