A Puzzle Worth Watching: JINN & OTHER MYTHS at the Off Broadway Theater

Playing thru November 19, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY—It is cathartic to experience a play like Zion Theatre Company’s portrayal of Mahonri Stewart’s Jinn and Other Myths. This performance does not just entertain, but also challenges you to analyze the artistic material and also yourself.

The play itself is in an unusual format—instead of one cohesive piece, with one set of characters following the same plotline—it is instead three mini plays, each portraying a classical myth in a modern setting.

First, Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”—a story that follows young Gerda (Jyllian Petrie) and Kai (Shea Potter) in a parable about good versus evil, the power of love, and the lie that is pessimism, among other themes.

Second, Greek mythology’s, “The Death of Eurydice” showed the newly deceased Eurydice (Aubrey Bench) talking with Hades (Garr Van Orden), who is taking her across the river Styx. As the myth goes, Eurydice is almost rescued by her husband, Orpheus (Kyle Oram). Hades has made a deal that Orpheus may save his wife from death only if he walks out of hell with her behind him—keeping one condition: they cannot look back until they are out of the underworld. Eurydice doesn’t make it out as someone looks back. (In the original, it is Orpheus who looks back as soon as he is out but she is not yet; in this play, that assumption is challenged.)

Third, “Jinn”—a more original work that spins two myths together—the myth of Jinn, genies who live parallel lives and are in this production soul-keepers for humans; and the myth of Calypso, who in The Odyssey keeps Odysseus as her captive lover on her island, until she finally lets him go (with a strong nudge from the gods) to live what she sees is his destined life.

The staging for the entire evening was simple: three vertical screens propped on an all-black stage. Images are conveyed on these screens through projection, correlating with the mini-play in process. Though there were some technical problems with the projections, this was somewhat expected, as it was a dress rehearsal. The use of music at random parts in the plays seemed somewhat disjointed to me, and the way the music started and stopped always sounded abrupt. I’m unsure if that was intentional or if it was merely bad timing.

The technical aspects that really worked were realized most fully in “The Snow Queen,” in which the screens play a huge role in visually conveying the mirror of lies from the myth and other important images. Also, the snow effect was quite beautiful—a snow projection all over the stage for the falling snowflakes. But even with the missteps, the technical aspects overall enhanced rather than distracted from the performance.

I had some pretty high expectations for the acting after reading the bios, and mostly I wasn’t disappointed. Overall the acting was excellent, though some actors rushed their delivery at times, making them hard to connect with and harder to understand. During “The Death of Eurydice” there were several moments when Van Orden (as Hades) mumbled so fast I couldn’t understand him, which was unfortunate, since I liked his melancholy, depressed characterization. My top three favorite performers of the night were Jyllian Petrie (Gerda in “The Snow Queen”)—her innocent, vulnerable, yet strong portrayal was emotionally honest and a joy to watch; Jason Fullmer (The Shopkeeper in “Jinn”)—with his delightful quirkiness that was still believable; and Rebecca Minson (Calypso in “Jinn”), who played so many levels and showed a real progression in her brief time onstage, always staying true to character.

Overall, the plays were well acted, always well staged, and left me with questions and a lot to discuss with my date. I recommend this show as a stimulating experience for all.

The Zion Theatre Company production of Jinn and Other Short Plays runs November 18 and 19 at the Off Broadway Theatre (272 S. Main Street, Salt Lake city) at 7 PM. Tickets are $12-16. For more information, visit theobt.org or www.ziontheatrecompany.com.