Jason and the Argonauts
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
January 23, 2009
Right now, Simon Donaldson and Tim Settle are hands-down the hardest working men on Broadway. A two-man adventure from Ancient Greece told in just over an hour to the toughest audience there could be: six to ten year olds (and their adults). If you were given the task of telling the tale of Jason and the Argonauts to a roomful of elementary schoolers, where on earth would you begin?
Donaldson and Settle nobly throw themselves in head first. From the moment they set foot on stage, they create such an exuberant experience that they have the entire crowd rapt and keep them that way until their final bow.
I attribute this to two key elements: the strength of the performers and the simplicity in storytelling.
Each man is an impeccable performer: body, mind, and soul. To perform to an audience of children is a daunting task. But when it is undertaken with such joy, the result is true entertainment. Their physical dexterity is astounding—each man throws himself relentlessly on, over, around, and through their singular set piece (a very clever wagon that turns into much much more, by Robin Peoples). Their improvisational skills are second to none—when your audience literally talks back to you it cannot go unanswered. The evening I saw the show, each volley from the house was lobbed back with graceful and age-appropriate humor. And never once did it look like work—the best performances are always made better when we can see they're having as much fun on stage as we're having while watching them.
The story is accessible to the kids while being incredibly engaging for adults. If you don't know it, it is a classic Greek tale of the hunger for power leading a man to murder. Pelias murders his brother Aeson to assume his throne. Jason, infant son of Aeson, is whisked away to grow up away from the threat of Pelias. When he is grown, he learns that he is the rightful heir to the throne and sets off back to Thessaly to assume his birthright. Upon questioning his uncle, Jason is sent off by Pelias on what seems to be a fool's errand: to find the Golden Fleece. On his journey, he is met with countless obstacles and creatures and, as you'd imagine, defeats them all.
Donaldson and Settle do have a supporting cast. Of toys. Action figures, to be exact. Their roles shift back and forth, at times rapidly—at times, one human actor is playing Jason simultaneously with his plastic counterpart. Then, seamlessly, they switch. If this sounds confusing, rest assured it is not. The script is so tight and so well laid out, that neither I nor any one of my neighbors 20+ years my junior were ever confused. It is also peppered with kicky, clever jokes and cultural references (as well as surprise guest appearances by a very special crime-fighting superhero) that kept me on my toes and laughing throughout.
Jason and the Argonauts was probably the most fun I've ever had in a room full of kids since I was a kid myself. If you've got a kiddo around, this would be a fun treat to share. But even without, it's still a really great time.