Rose Byrne’s exquisitely calibrated performance dominates Simon Stone’s otherwise tepid update of Medea. Her strengths as an actress both onscreen and onstage are maximized, literally: Stone has much of the action play out (however redundantly) in front of a video camera, and the footage captured on the large screen above the stage allows the audience to watch Byrne simultaneously play to the camera and the back row of the BAM Harvey Theater with the same honesty and intensity.
Byrne plays Anna, mother of two young boys, who’s beenreleased from a stay in a mental hospital following her attempt to poison her husband Lucas when she discovered he’s cheating on her. Not only is he cheating, he’s made the object of his desire—Clara, the much younger (half Lucas’ age) age) daughter of his and Anna’s research lab boss, Christopher—his betrothed while Anna was out of the picture. Needless to say—especially if one is familiar with the Euripides original—Anna does not take this news well, as she continuously reminds him of what they had (a life together, a family, a scientifically rewarding collaboration) and could have again. But her behavior becomes more erratic until…
Stone has cleverly configured his Medea on a bright stage, courtesy designer Bob Cousins, whose walls and floor are dazzlingly, even blindingly white, heightened even more by Sarah Johnston’s intentionally excessive lighting. This allows for the effective—if too blatantly symbolic—introduction of black ash and red blood for the setup to the dreadful (in the original sense) finale. Would that Stone gleaned any insight from his staging; instead, even covered in ash and gore, the final filicide/suicide/immolation remains remote, unemotional.
As Lucas, Bobby Cannavale—Byrne’s real-life partner—has surprisingly little to do but passively react (with a couple of angry exceptions) to his estranged wife’s behavior. Dylan Baker, always a welcome presence, is a very fine Christopher. Two pairs of boys alternate as the sons Edgar and Gus: Gabriel Amoroso and Emeka Guindo were the believably annoying kids (they man the video camera onstage) at my performance.
Madeline Weinstein’s engaging Clara makes for an obvious contrast to Byrne’s ferocious Anna, and any performer who can stand in place with buckets of blood dripping from her hair deserves an award of some kind. But even at 75 minutes, this bloodless Medea seems stretched beyond its slender means, even with Byrne’s star turn.
Written and directed by Simon Stone, after Euripides
Performances through March 8, 2020
BAM Harvey Theatre, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY