“Not too little, not too much. There safety lies.”
Euripides wrote that for Medea, but the same idea can easily be applied to the theater, where audiences frequently favor feel-good safety over deeper, darker provocations. For thousands of years, one of the hardest pills for audiences to swallow has been that of Medea, the scorned demigod who murdered her children to enact revenge on her two-timing husband.
Oddly, Allison Gregory’s disarmingly original Not Medea, which is currently running at Flat Earth Theatre at Watertown’s Mosesian Center for the Arts through March 30, feels both too little and too much, a frustrating thing considering the play’s potential and the gifts of its cast.
Juliet Bowler plays Woman, an overworked nurse with a bit of personal baggage who arrives late to the theater to take in a play after her shift. The play, it turns out, is Medea, and she’s not at all happy about that, chastising us, her fellow audience members, for coming together to judge her. Her summation of Medea? “He behaves badly, she behaves worse, and everyone just stands around watching. Kind of like this.”
There are similarities between Woman and Medea—hence her strong reaction—and as she tells us her story, she slips in and out of the ancient Greek world of Medea, complete with Chorus (Cassandra Meyer) and Jason (Gene Dante). It makes sense that the lines blur between Woman and Medea, but what isn’t helpful in Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez’s production is that it isn’t always clear what world we’re in or what’s going on.
Juliet Bowler is frequently remarkable, attacking the comic aspects of the role with a Melissa McCarthy-like deadpan that is riotous. But she also deftly brings to life a broken woman whose mistakes are eating her alive, and Not Medea is most successful when Bowler is all-in on either of those.
Elizabeth Krah’s too on-the-nose Greek costume designs took me out of the play a bit, but Kyle Lampe’s sound design is again remarkable (his design for The Nether was similarly thrilling), giving Not Medea much of its mood.
Clumsiness of Ramirez’s production aside, the play itself is a promising but perhaps too convoluted examination of motherhood, womanhood, and our predilection for judgment. And if we are to look at the misgivings of a modern woman through this ancient Greek woman who, early feminist qualities be damned, did some terrible things, then what are we really being asked to look at? I can’t figure out the answer to that question. Neither, it seems, can Ramirez.
NOT MEDEA. THROUGH 3.30 AT FLAT EARTH THEATRE AT THE MOSESIAN CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 321 ARSENAL ST., WATERTOWN. FLATEARTHTHEATRE.COM
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.