‘Medea’ Theater Review: Unmissable Modernization Of Greek Classic
Australian wunderkind Simon Stone has done it again — after dazzling New York audiences with 2018’s Yerma, the virtuoso director returns with another adaptation of a classic play about women pushed to the brink.
Real-life couple Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne star as Lucas and Anna, this play’s version of Jason and Medea. Instead of taking place of ancient Corinth, however, the action of the piece is brought up straight to the present day with references to TikTok and voicemail.
Though the outline of this Medea is similar to the original Euripides, Stone smartly does away with any pretension a play so old might carry and instead uses Medea’s famous act of violence as an entry point for a smart character study.
The play begins with Anna recently separated from Lucas after having fractured their relationship with her past actions. Her determination to win Lucas back is matched only by her obvious volatility in a world that demands she be a wife, mother and career woman only when appropriate. Byrne brings a tremendous sense of desperation to Anna, both in her longing for a former life with Jason and for a sense of freedom from the past she created for herself. The tangle in which Anna finds herself throughout the play is so intricately woven that it’s rarely easy to see who tied which strings.
Cannavale’s Lucas is, while well-played, a far more staid character — a man who, though he’s moved on romantically, still wants some kind of cohesion within his family. His attempt to maintain a steady hand through Anna’s ebbs and flows is often undercut by his own inability to be honest with himself. The play’s characters all resist easy summary; their pressures and motivations could still be unpacked after multiple watches.
Longtime character actor Dylan Baker is perhaps the weakest of the ensemble, playing his role with a disappointing degree of safety, but Madeline Weinstein is powerfully convincing as Lucas’s new, much younger girlfriend. Though the supporting cast all turn in admirable efforts, the real star of the show here is Stone’s direction. A sparse set beautifully designed by Bob Cousins is filled with character blocking that can feel like dance in its rhythmic intricacies, and the relative absence of props imbues what few objects do appear with a profound sense of importance.
Plays like Medea are a true showcase of what the theater can be at its best: an opportunity to look into some of the darkest and least explored corners of our humanity in the hopes of learning something deeper about ourselves. An absolute marvel to behold, Stone’s adaptation of the play blends humor, tragedy and beauty in a way usually only found in real life.