My short-lived relief that Flat Earth Theatre’s NOT MEDEA (@Arsenal Arts through March 30th) would not be Euripides’ MEDEA (perhaps the most famous of all “scorned” women) was quickly replaced with resignation. O K, the play is about that MEDEA but Allison Gregory’s clever conceit melding the tragic sorceress to a contemporary single mother makes the story more approachable.
This mom’s husband, like Medea’s, has left her for a younger woman. She’s stressed to the max and can’t cope anymore, certainly a recipe for disaster, if not revenge. I’m not sold on the link but Gregory mounts an engaging comparison. More importantly, Flat Earth mounts a crackerjack production.
Just this week, a fire which consumed a whole family led the news, twice in fact, because investigators subsequently discovered that the fire had been set to cover a grisly murder/suicide. We struggle to understand why a parent would kill a child but turning to MEDEA for an explanation? It’s a gambit and one that necessitates we buy into the nasty old shibboleth about the fury of a “woman scorned.”
Is there a comparable saying for a man who’s been jilted? I can’t think of one, yet it’s used again and again to discredit a woman. I recall that Anita Hill was accused of being a “scorned” woman to explain away her motive when she testified against Clarence Thomas… as was Christine Blasey-Ford in the Kavanaugh hearings. The Greek Chorus in Gregory’s play doesn’t help much when it proudly proclaims that MEDEA will “be the hero of scorned women everywhere.” Good Lord.
Gregory jokes that a theater company might think twice before presenting her play when television offers similar fare every night of the week. If anything elevates Gregory’s effort above and beyond the mayhem on TV, it’s her smart dialogue and her humor (often at her own expense!). Flat Earth is fortunate to have Juliet Bowler as the cheeky, self deprecating mom so desperate for a night out that she wanders sight unseen into our audience. Of course she takes over the stage complaining that it’s, gasp, MEDEA. (We’re with her there!) Bowler maintains an impressive balance between the comedy in the play and the seriousness it addresses.
NOT MEDEA is not so much a play within a play, as it is a treatise within a play: that anyone could lose control and commit a savage act, given the right circumstances. In point of fact, judging from the statistical frequency of murder following a break-up (especially those with an order of restraint attached), one can make a case. But those murderers are more likely to be male, not female and Gregory is indicting the females in her audience. We’re the ones, she says, whose love “is so full of trouble.” There went my hackles, right up again.
My reservations aside, see director Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez’ compelling production for the performances. It’s no easy feat, switching from past to present and from character to character. Bowler is supported by Gene Dante, charismatic as the two philandering husbands, and by Cassandra Meyer in an affecting performance as the Chorus (et al).