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Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘Not Medea’

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Bags and umbrella in hands, a young woman arrives late for the theater, apologizing profusely and comically all the while.

Joey Parsons and Ben Chase. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Joey Parsons and Ben Chase. Photo by Seth Freeman.

She notices the “live” caged bird on stage while proclaiming what a joy it is to have the opportunity to see a “live” show.

She tries to claim the seat of an already seated patron, asking him to check his ticket—when a house manager arrives and gives her a folding chair.

She reads the program and discovers that the play she will now see is Medea. She wants to leave immediately, declaring that the story of that horrible play is not worth seeing.

Soon thereafter, however, our young woman finds herself immersed neck-deep in Medea, the character, the wife betrayed, the mother whose desperate longing for love and kinship drives her to unspeakable desires … and actions.

Allison Gregory’s Not Medea, and its refreshing take on an old story, gives its audience a much needed perspective on the trials and tribulations of motherhood in the 21st century.

Don’t worry! Not Medea really is not Medea.

Rachael Balcanoff and Joey Parsons. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Rachael Balcanoff and Joey Parsons. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Joey Parsons portrays the young woman in the play with a quirky whimsy that can suddenly transform into a passionate sassiness, which can then transform into a fierce savagery, before ending with a glamorous goddess, who doesn’t exit by flaming chariot, but might as well fly with such force.

An aspect of the power of Not Medea is Gregory’s shifting back and forth between the narrative of the legend and that of the anonymous young woman the show highlights. For the most part, the shift are seamlessly delivered, as Ms. Parsons moves from her “Every Mother” self with secret, dark desires to embodying the mythic, larger-than-life Medea—not that we ever believe she really is that Medea, that sorceress and granddaughter of the sun god, Helios.

Joining Parsons on stage is Rachael Balcanoff as the chorus and Ben Chase as Jason.

Balcanoff portrays the concerned women of Corinth with a girlish innocence. Her youthfulness also allows her to embody the children that Medea will eventually kill.

Joey Parsons. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Joey Parsons. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Chase’s oblivious Jason captures this every day version of the Greek hero perfectly. He is small-town-hero–perhaps the high school’s star quarterback now turned local car salesman kind of hero–in a small town woman’s eyes.

Jesse Dreikosen’s simple set blended the modern with the ancient: a contemporary mattress with a frame made of rough hewn railroad ties, a chic inlaid water and rock pool, and tubular tree with lights above glossy pine. John Ambrosone’s lights only added to the splendor.

Peggy McKowen’s costuming offered a significant challenge: how to combine the everyday dress of the young woman who enters with plastic raincoat with that “barbarian” queen and sorceress Medea. Her simple modern attire worked well, but her choice for Medea–yoga pants with tapered leggings and simple top with a “found” waist sash–was a missed opportunity to clash spasmodically as the scripts two story lines did to excellent effect.

Courtney Sale’s direction kept the script tight and focused.

Not Medea is a welcome reminder that people who do the craziest, or even the most horrific, things don’t do them for no reason, and that sometimes that reason is not immediately discoverable.

A woman’s honest take on the struggles of motherhood, without the romanticism or the idealization of 21st century feel-good-culture, is much needed in this age of supermom.

Not Medea and The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) continue through July 31, 2016. Tickets to CATF and for Not Medea can be purchased through the Theater Festival Box Office, by calling (800) 999-CATF (2283), or by purchasing them online.

LINKS:
Review of ‘Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘pen/man/ship by Robert Michael Oliver.

Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘20th Century Blues’ by Robert Michael Oliver.

Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘Not Medea’ by Robert Michael Oliver.

Spine: The 26th Contemporary American Theater Festival: Ed Herendeen’s 26th Snapshot of America’s Theatrical Culture.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 1: Susan Miller and “20th Century Blues” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights’ Interviews: Part 2: Christina Anderson and “pen/man/ship” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 3: Allison Gregory and “Not Medea.”

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 4: Ronan Noone and “The Second Girl” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 5: Chisa Hutchinson and “The Wedding Gift” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Susan Miller’s website.

Sharon J. Anderson’s website.

Allison Gregory’s website.

Ronan Noone’s website.

Chisa Hutchinson’s website.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1547.gif

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