Not Medea - Flat Earth Theatre
Not Medea – Flat Earth Theatre
Review by James Wilkinson
Not Medea is produced by Flat Earth Theatre. Written by Allison Gregory. Directed by Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez. Set Design: Ben Lieberson. Costume Design: Elizabeth Krah. Props Design: Jake Scaltreto. Lighting Design: Connor Van Ness. Sound Design/Composer: Kyle Lampe. Graphic Designer: Jake Scaltreto.
The levels of irony present in the title of Allison Gregory’s play, Not Medea, are truly awe-inspiring. The play is currently being staged by Flat Earth Theatre and even now, a few days after having seen the show, I’m still marveling at just how perfect a title it is (there’s more to the production than the title, but it seems as good a place as any to start). For you see, the production we’re seeing is, quite literally, not Medea. At least, it’s not Euripides’ ancient Greek drama, Medea. Gregory’s play, however, does follow the story of Medea albeit from a slightly different angle. Here we meet a woman who is…not Medea, but whose story begins to run parallel to the Greek Medea to the point where the lines between the two begin to blur and intersect. So while, yes, this might not be the Medea we’ve previously encountered, it’s a modern-day Medea that is of our own time in the way that Euripides’ play was of his.
It’s easy to see why Flat Earth Theatre is producing Not Medea in the same season as Delicate Particle Logic. Both plays are (in part) examining the ways that stories are framed around women. Delicate Particle sought to give audiences the side of the story that had been cut out of history books. Not Medea, on the other hand is fleshing out the story that is already there. We get a fuller, more complete picture of Medea here. We see her not just on (what will be) the worst day of her life, but in the days leading up to the beginning of her story, the days when she was happier.
But I am getting ahead of myself, we’re not at the theater yet…
Flat Earth’s production doesn’t begin with the cry of a Greek chorus, but with something more subtle. A woman (Juliet Bowler) has a ticket to see this particular production and arrives just in time to interrupt the curtain speech. As she struggles to find her seat, (eventually nabbing the lone chair on stage), she begins a gentle patter with the audience, telling us about herself and why she’s here. As it turns out, she doesn’t even know what show she’s seeing and is aghast when she finds out it’s Medea. Why would anyone want to see such a horrible play? We’ll find out that she has her reasons for her distaste. The parallels between her story and Euripides’ heroine run a bit close for comfort. The focus of the play then splits into two parallel tracks that it bounces between. On one side, we get the story of Medea through scenes not included in the Greek version. We see her meeting Jason for the first time, falling in love with him and raising their two sons. On the side we get the story of the woman we’ve just met who has her own disastrous relationship with a man called Jason and a secret about her children that she’d rather keep in the past.
I think that any serious discussion of Flat Earth’s production of Not Medea has to begin with Juliet Bowler’s performance as The Woman. On a technical level, it’s impressive. Her character almost never leaves the stage in the 100 minute run-time and the structure of the script demands that she bounce between talk show host-like banter with the audience and character-driven scenes that cover every emotion in the rainbow. But it’s more than that. Sitting in the audience, you get the sense that she’s managed to wrestle control of the play in a battle for domination. Even when a transition between scenes in Gregory’s script is awkward and forced, (and there are a couple that, on paper, shouldn’t work), we don’t feel it and it’s because of the driving energy that Bowler brings to the production. There’s an ease to her presence as she bounces between roles that keeps the audience engaged.
In fact, the rest of the production seems to have been designed around the idea of getting out of Bowler’s way. Director Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez’s design team uses a light tough in each of their elements. There’s nothing to overshadow the performances. Designer Ben Lieberson creates a lovely bedroom-like set that emphasizes neutral colors. It’s as if all of the life has been sucked out of this bedroom the way that it has for the marriage of Jason and Medea. The large bed that sits in the background of each scene doesn’t let the audience forget that the source of this pain comes from broken wedding vows. The brighter colors provided by Costume Designer Elizabeth Krah’s pop against the background and keep our focus on the people in front of us.
Running at roughly one hundred minutes without an intermission, it’s hard not to wish that Gregory had found fifteen minutes in her play to cut. But this is a play with secrets to be revealed and director Ramirez knows that revelations of that kind have to be got at slowly. Bit by bit, the woman drops clues to her past for the audience to pick up. Even though we don’t immediately realize it, much like in Euripides’ original, we’re heading towards a bad end.
In Flat Earth’s Not Medea, our relationship to the past is put on display. There are those out there who perhaps don’t have much of a taste for classical Greek theatre. They look at the plot contrivances, the heightened melodrama and stylized language and don’t see what any of this has to do with them. Why do we keep coming back to this? By the end of its run time, Not Medea will have answered that question (or, at least nudged us in the right direction). The architypes present in Greek drama have their parallels in modern life. The connection is there, waiting for us.
Not Medea is produced by Flat Earth Theatre, playing March 15-30, 2019 at the Black Box at the Mosesian Center for the Arts.
For tickets and more information, visit their website: www.flatearththeatre.com