Friday, April 17, 2015
Medusa Undone (review)
Medusa Undone, by Bella Poynton, frankly is the kind of play near and dear to my heart. It enacts a story from Greek mythology, hopefully (successfully in my view) rendering it topical to our own lives. Medusa has popped up in many a work of entertainment, most usually as a relatively straightforward monster--a woman with snakes instead of hair, whose gaze means death by transformation into stone.
But she wasn't always so. Poynton's play deals with how this beautiful sea nymph once a priestess of the goddess Athena became so cursed. The details reveal something we don't often recall about the classic Greeks--namely, their view of the world as dangerous and unfair, plus the ingrained misogyny in their culture we ourselves carry with us.
Deneen Melody) runs away from her home in sea sea, seeking a life of service to the Goddess of Wisdom (and War) Athena (Karen Wray). She's met by Echo (Carmen Guo), a former Oracle of Delphi, now High Priestess here. Eventually she meets the Goddess, and before too long also meets that lady's uncle Poseidon (Derek Long) God of the Oceans. Medusa is accepted, within two years is elevated to High Priestess, when her sister Stheno (Caitlyn Lowerre) shows up with a letter from Athena telling her to come fetch the girl home. It seems the growing friendship between Medusa and Poseidon upsets her. At a crisis, the Sea God rapes Medusa. The Goddess does not blame him, but the girl, and transforms her into a monster for punishment. The trauma, and lack of comfort from any quarter, transforms the once-naive young woman into a cruel creature as terrible as those who inflicted this upon her.
Of course her ultimate fate--to have her head cut off then given to Athena to place on her shield--cannot but be an extra dollop of vicious irony.
Some members of the cast have a bad case of wandering feet--lots of tiny steps to nowhere for no clear purpose. The set looks very simple and yet quite effective, with I must say inspired sound and lighting design. The costumes didn't always work for me, but mostly they did so that seems like nitpicking.
Overall, I should also offer some praise to director Sonja Berggren for not only bringing this powerful story to stage with the punch it needs, but along the way solving a real technical problem--since the audience is on two sides of the stage, the blocking needed to be careful and yet smooth. With exception of the wandering feet (which didn't happen that often but is pet peeve of mine as an actor and director) the whole thing flowed nicely in what is after all a small space. Yet it seemed in the end as a corner of a much vaster universe, a cruel one achingly familiar. Because in the end we've all known a Medusa or two. Just as we all grew up around more than a few Poseidons, as well as few Athenas and Sthenos. Echos too now and then. So we get the most vibrant 'message' a play an often hope to convey.
Here you are. Here we all are.
Medusa Undone plays through May 3, 2015 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays and 2pm at The Garage Theatre 251 East 7th Street, Long Beach, CA 90813. You can make reservations by calling (323) 377-2988. All photo credits go to Rebecca Taylor.