By: Paulanne Simmons
February 12, 2020: In Medea, a tragedy written by Euripides in the 5th century B.C.E., the eponymous princess from Colchis marries Jason, a Greek, who leaves her for a princess from Corinth. Medea takes revenge by killing the children she had with Jason as well as his new wife. Over the following centuries, the play has been interpreted from a psychological, political, cultural and feminist point of view.
The most recent rendition comes from Simon Stone, whose Medea is currently onstage at BAM’s Harvey Theatre. The production features Rose Byrne as Anna, a laboratory researcher who attempts poisoning her husband, Lucas (Bobby Cannavale), when she discovers he is having an affair with the very young Clara (Madeline Weinstein), the daughter of Christopher (Dylan Baker), the head of the lab where they both work.
When we meet Anna, Lucas is taking her from the hospital, where she has been confined for a year, to their former home, where she is to be reunited with their two children, Edgar and Gus (Gabriel Amoroso and Jolly Swag the night I saw the show). For some reason, Lucas thinks it will be therapeutic for Anna and the children to spend time with each other, even though it is clear from the very beginning Anna is still unhinged.
Alternating seduction with defiance, Anna is intent on getting Lucas back. Her children give her a boost when they videotape Anna and Lucas in bed together and Clara finds the evidence. But, of course, it is the children who will be among the victims.
This interpretation does have an interesting and very modern take on the ancient story. Anna, it turns out, was the person who made the discoveries that made Lucas famous, although he took credit for them. It was she who took a back seat, raising the children while he pursued his career. And when she seems a bit less sexy, it’s she who is abandoned for a newer model. The story may sound familiar to many women today.
But the problem with this show is that Stone not only wrote the script; he also directs. The resulting indulgence often overwhelms the focus of the story Stone is trying to tell.
First, the white stage also serves as a screen where video closeups compete with the action onstage. Is this a movie or a play? Should we be looking at the screen or the stage? Toward the end of the play mysterious black ash begins falling into a pile in the middle of the stage. Although this foreshadows the gruesome outcome, such symbolism hardly seems necessary. We all know this drama is not going to end well.
There are also problems with the casting. Lucas, as portrayed by Cannavale, seems so boring, so indecisive, one cannot imagine why Clara and Anna are battling over him so fiercely. As for Anna, although she is certainly young and attractive, one cannot really imagine anyone leaving the feisty Anna for such a bland piece of meat.
If Medea, the woman deserved better treatment than she got from Jason, Medea, the play deserves a better interpretation than it got from Stone.
Medea runs through March 8 at Brooklyn Academy of Music, 5651 Fulton St., bam.org. Photography: Richard Termine