The Morals of Choice and Empathy in off the WALL’s Sensational “Not Medea”

By Casey Cunningham

Warning: The following review contains spoilers for the play Medea but, not, Not Medea. (That is likely the last bad joke I will make.)

This is not a show about Medea, descendant of the sun god Helios.

This is not a show about Medea, princess and sorceress.

This is not a show about Medea, wife of the “Hero” Jason and mother to his children.

This is a show about the audience, and specifically one woman who is Not Medea. She’s not. No matter what you think.

Off the WALL Theater has yet again picked one hell (which hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Medea is THE WOMAN they’re talking about when they say that) of an interesting script. If you’ve seen Medea before, go see this play. If you haven’t seen Medea before, go see this play.

Not Medea by Allison Gregory (whose hand I would very much like to shake) is, at its core, an examination of the relationship between audience-members and the characters on stage. There’s always one character that you, as an audience member, will empathize the most with in any given production. Maybe it’s the main character who is written to be empathetic; maybe not. Maybe it’s the only character your age, or gender identity. Maybe it’s someone who thinks like you do. And sometimes (and I propose this is as one of the greatest of theater’s magic tricks), maybe it’s the villain.

What does it mean for your humanity, when the only character you can empathize with and relate to is a monster? A murderer? A powerful wrathful witch who can destroy life and happiness with a wave of her hand, with a few drops of poison, or a well-placed blade.

Why shouldn’t we like, or even love, and seek to emulate characters who are brave and confident enough to do the things we would never dare to in our brightest dreams or darkest fantasies?

And no, you, (yes, you) right there sitting in the audience all comfy in your chair would never actively contemplate murder… would you? You’d never kill anyone…

But can’t ya sorta understand what would drive someone to that extreme?

Not Medea does.

To speak of the play’s action in more detail would be to spoil a fascinating evening of theater for you, so I won’t do that. But I leave it up to you, gentle reader, whether or not to brush up on the story of Medea before seeing this show.

If you know the story, as I did, you will experience the gradual creeping dread of inevitable tragedy.

If you don’t know the story, then you’re in for one of theater’s greatest shock endings.

What is loyalty? What is morality? What is it to scorn and be scorned?

I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend you see this show.

The script is fantastic, and it is the type of story I want to see more of–a deconstruction of classic stories that forces its audience to really think about what they’re witnessing on stage and in their lives.

The production is airtight, with a beautiful, dreamlike/minimalist set (Adrienne Fischer), with light and sound design (by Paige Borak and Shannon Knapp, respectively) that elegantly walks the tightrope of subtle and explicit mood building. Director Allison Weakland does an excellent job of showing the audience the rules of this world early on so that the audience will have no difficulty in understanding where the “real” world shifts into the “play world.” You’ll see what I mean. The costuming (Kim Brown) aids in this as well, as it ranges from simple, to gorgeous and intricate as the show progresses.

Weakland does a phenomenal job with her three-person cast of intensely talented actors. I don’t pick favorites and couldn’t even if i wanted to for this production. Every actor shifts almost imperceptibly from caricature to character to humans.

The whole effect is almost dreamlike as it reifies one woman’s experience of Medea to give us tantalizing glimpses of every  relationship in her life.

All three actors demonstrate tremendous range. Drew Leigh Williams as “Woman” (hear her roar, like for real) is at different times powerful and powerless, destroyer and destroyed. I wish I could tell you more without giving things away. Elizabeth Boyke as “Chorus” somehow manages to do the work of an entire Greek chorus and then some: her voice and expressiveness will hypnotize you. Allan Snyder as “Jason” fills the sandals of the Greek hero with ease at times being larger than life, and other times (and this is a compliment not a criticism) being the smallest, pettiest, most vile thing on stage.

All three actors will have you empathizing with them and hating them at different turns, and I again I wish I could say more without spoiling things.

Go see this show, I promise it will move you, and give you the tools to more fully enjoy whatever theater you see in the future, I cannot stress that enough.

Go see it.

Not Medea continues its run this weekend Thursday the 10th through Sunday the 13th, and next weekend Thursday the 17th through Saturday the 19th. This play may be inappropriate for children, unless you want to scare the hell out of them. Up to you. Look for tickets on off the WALL’s homepage. 

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