Tuesday, June 16, 2015

F*ck You Jason (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Euripides was the third great tragedian in an ancient Greece, during what has sometimes been called the first Golden Age of western theater. He proved himself over and over again the equivalent of a wild-eyed hippie. Arguably his most famous work, Medea (sadly most of his plays are lost) really challenged the status quo. For the first time (as far as we know) someone wrote the story from Medea's point of view. In Euripides' play, she is not an evil she-witch, but a wronged woman driven to the brink of madness and beyond.

Despite its incredible contributions to what we today call Western Civilization--including democracy, trial by jury, naturalistic art, etc.--Athens was also profoundly misogynistic. Women not only lacked the vote, they were barely regarded as human. Passion between a man and a woman often was thought of as a kind of inevitable madness, necessary for life but full of potential trouble. Euripides was not alone in criticizing this, far from it! But portraying Medea as a love story gone horribly wrong instead of a cautionary horror tale about foreign women was daring for its time.

Writer/director Benny Lee Harris Lumpkins Jr. thought this play topical today. Myself I would agree with him so much as to say anyone who disagrees is one of the reasons it in fact remains so. His blending of different translations with additional lines (including the words "Fuck you Jason!" as a refrain) make his viewpoint quite clear. The way Medea's pain and even humanity consistently earn dismissal from the two male characters no doubt strike a chord.

The final production, however, doesn't really work. This comes down to three reasons:

1. Mise-en-scene. I have zero notion where and when this story is taking place. The whole production offers no clue whatsoever. It doesn't even take place "nowhere" or "limbo." I have no sense of place or context. Maybe the movement piece with which the show began was supposed to establish that? If such was the intent it failed. Maybe I should have polled members of the audience for their view but that prologue-esque part of the play gave me nothing. Nor did the rest of the play. I never felt there was a specific place on stage.
2. Dialogue. I am severely prejudiced against "on the nose" lines and dialogue. Not saying it cannot work, but has to be earned. In particular we need to know these characters well enough to accept this is their natural mode of communication. Frankly, this entire play seems edited with the Idea totally eclipsing the Humanity of the characters. The result comes across as preaching to the choir with very little attempt made to keep anyone's interest. Nuance of character, for example, seemed nowhere in the script. The two male roles in particular seemed like stereotypes rather than people.

I should mention some exceptions to this. The most obvious being the Chorus (Lori Mulligan, Valeria Rifici and Stepy Kamei). When they popped their heads onstage to repeat the refrain, or entered with stylized movements speaking in erie (but clear--kudos for that!) unison, or when a lament for how women are treated by men became a discussion of mutual love between two of the women--THERE we see the potential the writer/director as well as this idea has! Loved those moments!

3. The Cast. I've only ever seen one member of this cast in anything before--a member of the chorus. I also want to offer some real praise for Lesli Harad in the lead role of Medea. She fell into almost every single trap actors find in playing stylized verse plays--but she remained at least a recognizable human being throughout. Those actors portraying Jason, the Nurse and Creon however left a terrible impression. Acting is not emoting. Nor is it screaming. Perhaps this was a performance where they were for some reason seriously "off." I don't know. The script certainly did not help them, with orations instead of speech. Yeah, this kind of stylized play is difficult to pull off, simply because it is so atypical from what our training and exposure tends to be. I'm sure Ancient Greek audiences and performers would find our modern realistic styles just as baffling. But half the cast of this show never made that stylization work. As a result, they never seemed to be people--just mouthpieces for the playwright.

Plenty of talent on that stage, maybe more than I noticed. But this production lacked enough focus and nuance to really make the ideas breathe, sing or live.

Fuck You Jason, or Medea plays at the Elephant Space at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. LA, CA 90038 on Friday June 19 at 7pm, Sunday June 21 at 7pm, Thursday June 25 at 11:55pm and Sunday June 28 at 2:30pm.


Valeria Rifici said...

I wanted to thank you for coming to see our play,
and welcome your helpful review.
I just noticed my last name was misspelled.
I am Valeria RIFICI,
if you could change that it would help.
Thank you so much for your time :D

Zahir Blue said...