How do you solve a problem like Medea?
Long a figure of fascination and derision in Greek mythology, the sorceress Medea got revenge on her two-timing husband Jason by killing their children. If that’s not odious enough—she got away with it. No justice or payback for Medea—because of her semi-divine status, her grandfather, the sun god Helios, whisked her away to the skies in a dragon-drawn chariot.
She not only escaped punishment, she went on to commit more murders in the name of settling scores before fleeing Greece to live in what is now Iran. Who knows? She could be there still.
While Medea remains a controversial and cryptic woman of power and madness, women in real life who experience unendurable events are not as fortunate. In the highly charged and theatrical world premiere play, Not Medea, playwright Allison Gregory contrasts the story of Medea with the plight of an everyday, overworked and stressed out mother who fantasizes a child-free life and partially, cruelly, gets her wish.
Not Medea is not for the introverted theatergoer. The 4th wall is not only broken, but frequently bashed in. The house lights stay on for an uncomfortable amount of time as Woman (an astonishing Joey Parsons) enters, late for the show, loud and shaking a wet umbrella. The nerve of her! She also brings a Styrofoam container of food, which she sheepishly stashes under her chair.
Woman animatedly overshares to strangers—nurse, divorced, upset child at home who keeps calling her smartphone, which she never silences. She hints at a tragedy far greater than her husband leaving her for a younger woman, but doesn’t spill the beans just yet.
Before you know it, Woman has jumped onstage to become Medea, answering the pleadings and questions of the Chorus (the riveting Rachael Balcanoff). Both she and Woman will tell their side of the story in the hopes you will understand then, even if you condemn their actions.
Whipping between the hounded, beset Woman and the bold, conjuring (and apparently conscienceless) Medea, Parsons creates two striking figures who share similarities in their stories but are distinct characters. As Medea, she is strong, assured and commanding even when falling hopelessly in love with Jason (a forceful Ben Chase), of the Argonaut and Golden Fleece fame. Although looking much like a Greek god himself, Jason is no intellectual titan, first being led to victory through Medea’s machinations and then placidly agreeing to marry the king of Corinth’s daughter. He gives his wife the lame excuse that he is doing it for Medea and the children’s sake.
As the Woman, Parsons is addled and barely holding it together, wishing nothing more than to disappear in the fluffy white bedclothes that adorn the spare, classical set. But she has to finish her tale, and unlike Medea’s, the audience doesn’t know how it is going to end.
closes July 31, 2016
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The mingling of myth and modern tragedy works for the most part, although the scenes of Medea and the stark poetry are often more compelling because they are so passionate. Whether rolling in bed with Jason, preparing a spell or dripping with blood, every emotion or sensation with Medea is outsized, grand and unapologetic. She got her revenge on Jason at an exalted price.
In contrast, the Woman’s world is small, sorry and if there is anything grand about her plight, it is that she had the ultimate Bad Parenting Moment. Like Medea, she is scorned and reviled. Unlike Medea, there is no golden chariot to bear her aloft to freedom, only endless moments where she pays for what she’s done and then pays again.
Not Medea is not only about vengeance and unthinkable acts, but also about motherhood, where you are driven crazy by a child’s demands while being floored by the insane love you feel for your children. Motherhood, like Medea’s actions, are a form of divine madness.
Not Medea by Allison Gregory . Director: Courtney Sale. Featuring: Joey Parsons, Ben Chase, Rachael Balcanoff . Set Design: Jesse Dreikosen. Costume Design: Peggy McKowen. Lighting Design: John Ambrosone. Sound Design: David Remedios. Assistant Lighting Design: Christian Specht. Fight Director: Aaron Anderson. Magician Consultant: David Garrard. Technical Director: Lindsay Kelley. Stage Manager: Maribeth Chaprnka . Produced by Contemporary American Theater Festival . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Runs 90 minutes, no intermission.