BWW Review: NOT MEDEA: Motherhood Gone Awry
Written by Allison Gregory, Directed by Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez; Stage Manager, Amy Lehrmitt; Technical Director, Adam J. Teti; Set Designer, Ben Lieberson; Costume Designer, Elizabeth Krah; Props Designer, Jake Scaltreto; Lighting Designer, Connor Van Ness; Sound Designer/Composer, Kyle Lampe; Dramaturg, Betsy S. Goldman; Intimacy Director, Cassie Chapados; Magic Consultant, Rich Girardi
CAST: Juliet Bowler, Gene Dante, Cassandra Meyer
Performances through March 30 by Flat Earth Theatre at The Black Box at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-923-8487 or www.flatearththeatre.com
The House Manager is giving the curtain speech, telling the audience how long the show runs (about an hour and forty, without an intermission) and reminding everyone to turn off their phones or any device that may beep, out of consideration for each other and the actors. Enter a woman (or a bull in a china shop, depending on your point of view), running late, explaining and apologizing, having no luck finding the seat to match her ticket. Those of us who arrived and were seated punctually might start to get irritated, but there is something both endearing and pathetic about her that defuses the situation.
The woman (Juliet Bowler) is an exhausted, frazzled divorced mother in need of a night off from her stressful job and the demands of caring for her young daughter (who repeatedly calls on mom's cell), and wanders into the theater for respite. When she finds out that the evening's fare is the Greek tragedy Medea, she cannot believe her bad luck and desperately tries to convince the audience to run for the exits, warning that it is a horrible play. As the action on stage unfolds, we gradually come to understand why she can't bear to watch as the story of Medea triggers the tragic tale of her own life, the story of Not Medea.
Playwright Allison Gregory combines myth and magic to craft a non-linear narrative about betrayal, death, motherhood, and the darkest tragedy. It is to her credit that she weaves a great deal of humor and humanity through the play, and Bowler is adept at playing both sides of the character. Toga-clad Gene Dante is cocksure in the dual roles of the mythological Jason (of Golden Fleece fame) and modern-day Jason, the woman's ex-husband who left her for a younger wife. Every Greek play must have its Chorus to contribute commentary, ably provided here in both spoken and sung verses by Cassandra Meyer.
As one who was previously unfamiliar with the Medea story, Gregory's reinvention challenged me to grasp the parallels and connect all of the dots that she lays out. However, it sharpened my focus and kept my attention on the shifting worlds. The fantastic effects of the lighting (Connor Van Ness) and sound (Kyle Lampe) designers help to distinguish which world we are observing, as does the toggling back and forth between heightened and everyday language. Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez directs with a clear-eyed vision of both the real world and allegorical components of the play, and elicits strong performances from her tight-knit ensemble. However, it is Bowler whose shoulders bear the brunt of portraying myth and magic as if they are just as real as the present day scenes. There are times when her behavior and attitude may horrify you, but Bowler's intensity of presence and quality of humanness ultimately win out. After all, she is not Medea.
Photo credit: Jake Scaltreto (Gene Dante, Juliet Bowler)