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A CurtainUp Review
By Jon Magaril
Have some fucking dignity.— Anna in Medea
Photo credit: Richard Termine. Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale- Photo credit: Richard Termine.
And still she persisted. Nearly 2500 years ago, Medea came in last, along with Euripides' other contributions, at the City Dionysia playwrights competition. She's gotten her revenge. For at least a century, the scorned wife has been all the rage. She ties Hamlet for ubiquitous Broadway revivals, appearing each decade from the 1970s to the aughts. And no role has earned its actor as many Tony Awards or inspired more contemporary adaptations.

This #MedeaToo movement has topped out in the past few years with Luis Alfaro's Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, which played the Public last summer, and Doctor Foster, the award-winning BBC/ Netflix show which must be the first TV hit centering on a lead character seemingly capable of murdering her child. To some extent, it's tapped out with writer-director Simon Stone's Medea.

In the Euripides play and the myth that inspired it, Medea is a sorceress and princess who left her country for her husband Jason's home. The play ends with her escaping on the sun god's golden chariot. It's believed the original production used the same device for flying reserved for staging scenes with gods and goddesses. In Stone's version, though, there is no escape, no gods, and too little theatrical sorcery.

Bob Cousins' stage design provides the production's only element of formidable mystery, a slow cascade of cinders that pile up center stage, providing fodder for a black snowball fight and a final resting nest for Anna and her boys (Orson Hong and Jolly Swag, at this performance). The acting — especially from Rose Byrne's Anna, the Medea figure, and, as the doomed young woman her husband prefers, Madeline Weinstein — creates ripples of emotion. And the primal lines of the story demonstrate why the tale will likely remain rock solid through future millennia. Still, we stay a stone's throw from catharsis.

This rendition doesn't come near the impact of the devastating Deborah Warner/ Fiona Shaw production seen on Broadway in 2002 or even Suranne Jones' magisterially complex wounded warrior Dr Foster on the small screen. The contemporary details may mirror the myth, a recent true crime, and a heap of Lifetime movies, but the plotting muddies and muddles rather than resonates.

Stone's free adaptation opens with Bobby Cannavale's Lucas picking his estranged wife up from the institution that's housed her for a year after she'd been revealed to be poisoning Lucas with ricin. Anna announces her determination to win him back and he bafflingly continues to circle and succumb to her seductive ways. By most accounts, Stone's original production featuring a different cast devastated. The collaboration with this cast doesn't find a way to make any of this rise beyond a resolute sadness.

There's a late revelation, in which Anna is revealed to have let Lucas take credit for her breakthrough work. This twist doesn't land because Anna has seemed more pathetic than formidable. Stone's choices for his lead characters generally tend to rob them of power. Cannavale's Lucas seems easily manipulated. When he's asked to carry the burden of the finale, in which his dreams go up in smoke, the performance offers no fire.

At the start, Stone has video of Byrne's Anna projected on a screen above the action. This may have compelled Byrne to keep Anna tamped down, for fear of having any falseness revealed and enlarged. Maybe Stone wants to give us access to Anna's private thoughts and feelings as she's put under the microscope by society, her husband, and her former boss (an under-used Dylan Baker) who conspires against her.

Stone's got a vision, which comes through most here in his crisp staging and the design. But it loses some of its distinction by adopting the current fad of video projection. This production, using a different cast, started at Ivo Van Hove's Internationaal Theater Amsterdam and it seems influenced by that director's house style.

We're also kept at a clinical remove by Cousins' all-white set, which makes it seem that fundamentally Anna never gets out of that institution or off her meds. One wonders whether she lost Lucas' interest after motherhood, because of post-partem depression. Little of this reverberates interestingly with the fearsome energies of the original. Instead, Anna seems depressively mundane.

Stone is developing his own brand of contemporizing classics in both stagecraft and text. His Yerma ( Elyse Sommer's review), which stunned two years ago at the Park Avenue Armory, kept Billie Piper behind clear walls in an apparent attempt to protect us from an explosive performance of a woman driven mad by her inability to conceive. Without mentioning its connection to the modern Lorca classic, it would still have overpowered our senses.

With Medea, Stone makes some promises he doesn't keep. The production offers crisp beauty and some pathos, but little that awes. Withclose-ups of Byrne's face blown up across the proscenium and the glare of Sarah Johnson's bright white lighting, Stone seems to dare us to look away from a wronged woman's simmering mania. Tragically, with too few emotional truths to tear the heart, many may choose to take him up on that dare.

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Written by Simon Stone after Euripides
Directed by Simon Stone
Cast:Victor Almanzar (Herbert), Gabriel Amoroso (Edgar),Dylan Baker (Christopher),Jordan Boatman (Elsbeth), Rose Byrne (Anna), Bobby Cannavale (Lucas),Emeka Guindo (Gus),Orson Hong (Gus alternate, seen at this performance),Jolly Swag (Edgar alternate, seen at this performance), Madeline Weinstein (Clara)
Set by Bob Cousins
Costumes by An d'Huys
Music & Sound by Stefan Gregory
Lighting by Sarah Johnston
Video by Julia Frey
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
From January 12 to March 8
BAM Strong (Harvey Theater), 651 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Box Office: (718) 636-4100
Tickets: $45 – $195
Reviewed by Jon Magaril

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