The three strands play out by way of many short scenes on a rather crowded, abstract set by Martin Flynn; the flats, painted with black-and-white geometric cross-hatches, represent the maze that is the play’s overriding leitmotif.
Teenage Jessica (Frannie Morrison), recently escaped from an eight-year kidnapping captivity, is about to become a media celebrity of sorts, relating a version of her horrifying experience.
Depressed young rock musician Paul (Harold Pierce) enters drug rehab, where he makes friends with another patient, artist Beeson (a convincingly peculiar Clive Worsley), who apparently has obsessive–compulsive disorder, social phobias and a dangerous attraction to sleeping pills. The two bond over discussions of creativity. Beeson has spent years publishing volume after volume of a graphic novel that he says he has no control over — it’s being “delivered” to him. “I hate the book but it wants to be finished,” he says.
The members of Paul’s band, Pathetic Fallacy — especially his ambitious and creatively frustrated girlfriend (Sarah Moser) — want him quickly fixed and back at work, composing and songwriting.
And, in another part of the theatrical forest, a medieval king (Lasse Christiansen) is building a maze around his castle, allegedly to keep his pregnant wife (Janis DeLucia) and unborn child safe; the two wear cartoonish, black-and-white costumes (designed by Miyuki Bierlein). The maze is being built by an architect who happens to be a snow dog.
The connections among the stories, and among the characters, complex as they are, slowly start to gel.
Handel cleverly pulls all the disparate pieces of this imaginative play together by the end, but it’s a pretty long slog. It doesn’t help that Molly Aaronson-Gelb’s direction tends to inject a sort of artificial hyperactivity into some of the scenes, but that may be due to an uneven cast, most of whom seem emotionally disconnected.
Ultimately Handel’s examination of the source of creative inspiration, the role of the artist and of celebrity in our culture, and the nature and function of art — set within the context of fraught contemporary issues — is intriguing. Still, although it tickles the intellect, it’s frustrating that it does not touch the heart.
Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, closes March 9
Tickets: $20 to $25
Contact: (510) 214-3780, www.justtheater.org