Review: Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale Put Murder and Marriage Center Stage in “Medea”
“Medea” is one of the stories that you know going in what’s going to happen— no matter what, the tossed-aside wife is going to murder her children — but you watch anyway, almost unable to look away. Simon Stone, who wrote and directed a new adaptation currently playing at BAM’s Harvey Theater, has created a painfully uncanny world that translates Euripides to modern day, inspired by a real life Kansan woman who murdered her children. On the surface, the gruesome filicide of “Medea” seems unfathomable, and yet as Stone’s program interview states, it’s actually not that unheard of, even in our modern, supposedly civilized society.
So if, as Stone tells us, mothers are still murdering their children, it maybe makes sense to look for 21st century echoes of Medea. Stone’s goal here is to write what might be considered a feminist apologia for Medea, a psychological exploration of what it takes for a mother to get to the point of murdering her children. The final product may not achieve its feminist goals, but it is nonetheless an undeniably chilling and thought-provoking production.
As proven with his “Yerma,” Stone is one of the major theatrical auteurs of this generation, known for his evocative and experimental stagings of classics. For “Medea” this meant converting the Harvey Theater into an almost intolerably white cyclorama bathed in florescent light (Bob Cousins did the set, Sarah Johnson the lights). The center panel sometimes lifts up and down, revealing a stage identically designed, a white cavern of indeterminate size. This panel also occasionally features projections, live-feed close ups of the actors (video design by Julia Frey).
Although the design is bold and the camera tricks are interesting, they can sometimes come across as gimmicks, as can the slow stream of ashes that fall center stage throughout. Each of these gestures is visually affecting, but it is often unclear what exactly they are doing, what their rules are, or why they are (only) used at specific moments.