Let’s be honest – most productions of Greek plays or retellings of their myths are difficult to sit through. They occasionally pop up in a theatre’s season because they’re classics, but what so often happens is that either they become flat museum pieces (modern realism and ancient dramatists don’t mesh well) or they venture so far from the source material that they feel forced and ultimately untrue to the real story.
Playwright Jess Shoemaker has opted to throw out this blueprint for failure and give the audience a real treat with her original script. This is not your grandfather’s “Medea” with a woe-is-me chorus telling you how to feel every step of the way. Nor is it a concept piece that demands you rethink your sociopolitical outlook by beating you over the head with an external agenda.
It’s a love story, and an examination of what’s going on in the inner lives of the two principal characters: Jason, a prince who is struggling to become the hero he has always envisioned he’d be, and Medea, a highly intelligent woman trying to balance her own remarkable power with the vulnerability that comes with unexpectedly falling in love.
Jessica Pohly (Medea) and Paul Culos (Jason) each rise to meet this remarkable challenge in performance, creating lead characters that do awful things yet somehow remain entirely sympathetic throughout the course of the story. Pohly in particular throws herself into her role with such originality that I found myself rethinking everything I thought I knew about the inner life of Medea. The whole ensemble is excellent, as Josey Montana McCoy, Emily A. Fisher, and Josie Adams each find their own unique comedic notes that counterbalance the tragic central narrative.
Strong acting and minimalistic staging allow the audience to catch a glimpse of the people behind these iconic figures. The relationships are what are important in this telling, and the result is a wonderfully humanized experience of the myth that’s unlike any other.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this story – but it’s the first time I’ve cared.