Medea’s having a bad day. Work sucks, the kids are cranky, and her ex-husband seems blissfully happy with his new wife. It doesn’t quite feel fair, does it?
Of course, when your CV includes “barbarian princess,” there are remedies at your disposal. What better way to teach that gleaming hunky warrior dude a lasting lesson and become a feminine icon of dramatic literature at the same time than by taking care of things oneself? Yes, there will be tragic collateral damage, but that’s another, lesser story. This one is all Medea, all the time.
“Not Medea” by Allison Gregory, the National New Play Network rolling world premiere at B Street Theatre’s B3 Stage, eases us into Medea’s murderous mindset with droll theatrical sleight of hand. A harried, self-absorbed woman (the resourceful Lori Prince) wanders into the theater as if to see the show that she eventually becomes. (If you’ve ever seen Cirque du Soleil clowns, it’s the same idea with dialogue.) The woman tries to find her seat but, sorry, wait, she has to answer her phone. She’s dressed in scrubs as if she just finished a nursing shift and carries a plastic bag that may have had her lunch in it.
It’s a funny, sad disaster-in-the-making, which Prince pulls off with a bravura performance, tightrope-walking between self-indulgent pathos and emotional transparency.
She’ll remind us several times we’re in a theater watching a show. It feels like a cheap stunt since we already know that, of course, and nothing happens further forcing us to reconsider what that means for this particular evening.
The woman is “not Medea,” she advises us. What happened with her child was an accident. Pretty soon everyone trapped within the sound of her voice has become unwillingly enmeshed in the drama of her life. It’s like riding the bus with some mother yelling at her kids, who won’t listen. You don’t have to watch, but they’re going to put on a show anyway.
Euripedes’ tragedy “Medea” from 431 BCE has had no shortage of variations, takes and re-imaginations. The playwright’s subtle depiction of a self-possessed woman unapologetically making her way through a male-dominated world has given the original text significant feminist cache. The Medea myth itself has numerous versions, but all share the basic narrative of Medea taking revenge on her husband, Jason (of Golden Fleece fame), for leaving her and taking another wife. Medea poisons that wife and kills the children she and Jason had together.
Here Jason (Ross Hellwig) is a mock heroic, soap opera-handsome figurine. The woman takes us through their sensual courtship and happy coupling. She doesn’t take it well when he dumps her for the political expediency of his new wife. Deonna Bouye as the chorus can do little but look on with amazement or horror.
Medea tries rationalizing her behavior, cajoling the audience into agreeing that we’ve all felt overwhelmed and a little murderous at times. Well, yes and no. You can understand, and everybody knows the deal about a woman scorned and all that.
Still, murdering three innocent people, two of them children, really feels like an overreaction, doesn’t it? Vengeance isn’t hers, it’s just horrific violence that makes no sense, like all the other horrific violence we hear about and experience. We’re not with you on this. Just as Susan Smith isn’t a heroine but a woman who drowned her children, there’s nothing mythic or poetic about Medea in this telling.
This glib, sometimes funny retelling of the uncomfortable story sheds no new light on the character as it vaguely updates her. Medea is a “monster,” the woman tells us, but she says it with the least conviction of any line in the play.
What: National New Play Network rolling world premiere of Allison Gregory’s play, starring Lori Prince, Ross Hellwig and Deonna Bouye; directed by Gretchen Corbett
Where: B Street Theatre B3 Stage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. selected Sundays, through June 11
Cost: $26-$38; $8 student rush
Information: 916-443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org
Time: 90 minutes