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Review Roundup: BAM's MEDEA Starring Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale - What Did the Critics Think?

Medea

BAM presents Simon Stone's Medea in the Harvey Theater. The production stars Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Rose Byrne (Damages, Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek, You Can't Take It with You) and two-time Emmy winner and Tony nominee Bobby Cannavale (Mauritius, The Motherf-er with the Hat). Produced by BAM, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, and David Lan, it comes to BAM in its US premiere.

Let's see what the critics are saying...


Ben Brantley, The New York Times: But to inspire the requisite pity and terror, Anna needs to exude a passion that eludes and transcends medical and social diagnosis. Byrne's tightly calibrated performances is more forensic than tragic. A bespectacled Cannavale bravely gives us a Jason figure who is basically a spineless hunk. But his passivity means that when he finally registers the full extent of Medea's payback, it's hard to respond with the dazed, horrified wonder the moment demands. (Jason was a jerk, too, but he was also a figure of heroic stature.)

Thom Geier, The Wrap: Where the production succeeds is in Bob Cousins' striking all-white set design, and in the shower of soot that begins to fall two-thirds of the way through the 90-minute show to foreshadow the tragic conclusion. "Why didn't the pain ever stop?" Anna asks toward the end. It's as if we are seeing inside the blank slate of Anna's brain - and watching as the sadness and jealousy and rage accumulate until no one can see clearly through the resulting fog.

Frank Schreck, The Hollywood Reporter: The two leads deliver impressively intense performances; Byrne conveys a whirlwind of emotions, often moving from one to another in a quicksilver fashion that leaves you constantly on edge. Cannavale cannily underplays by comparison, his mild manner suggesting his character's inner weakness and lack of discipline. But their impeccable work becomes undercut by external factors; Byrne has proven herself a fine dramatic actress in the past, but she's appeared in so many big-screen comedies in recent years (most recently the egregious Like a Boss) that humor seems to bleed into her performance in inappropriate places.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: It's important to know-despite the promises of the poster, the title, and the hot-eyed publicity photos-that this is not actually your chance to see Rose Byrne play Medea and her partner-in-life and fellow movie star Bobby Cannavale play Jason. Instead you'll see them in a new domestic drama about ex-pharmaceutical researcher Anna and her estranged husband and colleague, Lucas, whose lives-full of depression, infidelity, and ill-judged medication-eventually reflect an older tragedy. As he did with Yerma (which toured to the Park Avenue Armory in 2018), the Australian Stone writes and directs a modern drama that very gingerly follows the outline of its namesake. In both cases, the important connection to the older play is the drive towards a tragic conclusion. The connection also, of course, flatters the material.

David Cote, Observer: For all its stylishness and brevity (a brisk 80 minutes), Medea ultimately comes across as a first draft about a mentally unstable woman and her faithless, careerist husband, and the damage wrought on everyone around them. Lacking the poetry and weird, pre-Christian morality of the Greeks, or a deep dive into contemporary pathologies, the piece is stuck in the middle: a National Enquirer exclusive tarted up as a Dior Sauvage ad. Yes, mothers have killed their children. And their husbands' mistresses. But no amount of impeccable negative space or gorgeously framed video can make these domestic horrors pop with primal, archetypal force. I'd rather see a Medea where the title character was (as in the original) haughty, remorseless, anguished, but heroic. A mother who could justify murdering her children with chilling logic, who was fighting the patriarchy while part of it. Stone's not up to the task and frankly, he diminishes a great female role by reducing it to chicly dressed pop psychology. A meaningful Medea for now? Obviously, it's a job for a woman.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: The beautiful Byrne-particularly as the video camera observes her-conveys every nuance of Anna's despair and calculation. Byrne's depiction of a woman way beyond the verge of a nervous breakdown is impeccable. Cannavale imbues Lucas with as many acting complexities as he's able. Worth the price of admission is the amused, bemused, hardly admonishing or embarrassed look he gives when his sons catch him in bed with their mother. (Though not married, Byrne and Cannavale are partners for seven years, with two sons of their own at their Brooklyn home. Think about that for a few seconds.)

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