Who knew that the tragic series of unfortunate events that overtake Euripides’ Medea could be spun around and flipped topsy turvy, undergo a cuisinart Hollywood treatment, and come out a funny, zany comedy with a world premiere showing in Laurel? The ancient theater gods and goddesses might howl at the results, but the crisp writing smacks straight from La-La Land and the clarion clear direction by Deborah Randall result in a fun romp through scorned woman territory.
As in their previous production, Randall and her design crew again use raised and tiered platform steps, this time with large cardboard cut-out letters spelling HOLLYWOOD along the perimeter of the stage. At the top of the show even before the introductory announcements, the actors emerge from the backdrop, cross the stage, and exit along the aisles to the back of the house with purpose and identity. This simple action sets the piece as an everyday occurrence, depicting lives that could represent anyone in the audience.
The dueling duo, Medea and Jason, yes even the ancient names remain in tact, look like an ordinary couple having a run-of-the-mill spat, but language and intensity soon spiral into murky depths of no return. Hollywood actress Medea sacrificed all for her beloved Jason, abandoned her family (in the mythology, she killed her brother for him) and used her influence to result in his meteoric rise to fame as a successful movie producer. Toni Rae Brotons plays Medea, with a chilly reserved veneer. She looks outward with a deceptively calm expression while the turmoil churns and rages inside. With impeccable comedic timing she can spew out one-liners, rejoinders and side bar afterthoughts to rival the best. Chris Mancusi plays her blusteringly wayward husband Jason who charges through life filled with entitlement and charm, taking and plundering goods and services like the world was made just for him. Cutting digs and piercing straight into each other’s jugulars, all while wearing smiles and the latest designer suits, they have the natural pace and rhythm of a Nora Ephron comedy as the dynamo couple de jour who became so yesterday; the terrain is wildly familiar, topical and real as a raging heart attack.
The supporting characters are also standouts, starting with the irrepressible, babbling, cell phone flipping, Cal-chic nanny, played with perfect pitch California attitude by Bethany Lynn Corey. Carol V. Wilson brings her mesmerizing looks to kill expressions in an interesting dual role as Our Lady of Guadalupe who supports Medea’s hell-bent destruction. Rebecca A. Herron as the supportive household servant Rosie proves there are no small parts by bringing grace and caring to her role, and Jessica Wanamaker, an adult playing nine-year old daughter Mackenzie, has the sweet and bouncy physicality and expressions just right. Also serving as the Greek chorus is Michael R. Burgtorf as Manuel who flings some delicious comic moments and potent glares in being fiercely protective of Medea and the household.
A major challenge for the writer is managing the steady downward death spiral of doom that we all know is the story. To remain true to the tale, eventually, this fun-loving romping comedy has to take a detour to horror-ville, and admittedly, it’s a tough transition. Medea wreaks havoc in destroying the new wife and plotting to hurt Jason where it will hurt him most, murdering their precious and precocious daughter. That scene is done deliberately and with tender compassion. Just when you thought all was lost, however, the Hollywood twist at the end brings the tone back into the comforting land of make believe. It’s a delicate transition that will likely undergo the most scrutiny because so much can go so wrong so quickly. Considering the circumstances and the task at hand, it’s probably the most effective that can be done. As is the case for world premieres, the truth will out in the telling to see if emotional aspects of ancient tragedy can indeed be presented with a funny and modern show business sensibility.
Homokay’s Medea is a witty and amusing take on some of the most vexing emotional issues known to man and woman kind. Homokay is a prolific and talented writer who currently works on the absurdly funny “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson. Her characterizations, theatrical moments and witty dialog cackle with astute observations and energy that’s hard to find around these parts and shouldn’t be missed. The plucky Venus Theatre has again shown how creativity and artistry can trump today’s financial hardship and reality, one show at a time. Speaking of which, their next one targeted for September also looks like it will be a doozy-“Why’d Ya Make Me Wear This, Joe?” by Vanda. If you caught their Not Such Stuff and this Medea, you’ll see why you should keep those driving directions handy for future runs.
by Julianne Homokay, contemporary adaptation of the classic by Euripides
directed by Deborah Randall
produced by Venus Theatre
reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
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