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Medea Unborn
a Drama
by Sawyer Estes

COMPANY : Vernal & Sere Theatre
VENUE : The Robert Mello Studio [WEBSITE]
ID# 5096

SHOWING : June 30, 2017 - July 16, 2017



Over 2500 years ago, a play called "Medea" came into existence in Greece, written by a man named Euripides. It has been translated and retranslated - adapted and readapted. Audiences seem to be absolutely fixated on this woman who kills her two small children as an act of vengeance against her former lover.

Now Vernal & Sere Theatre has reimagined the epic yet again with a new play called "Medea Unborn," written by company member Sawyer Estes. By skewing the timeline ever so slightly, so that Medea is five months pregnant with twins when the play begins, this production is allowed to focus entirely on the abortive act, repeatedly asking an almost unfathomable question: Does that change things for you? Does it make it better? Or worse? In our second full production, we explore the forgotten space between the myth and the mother.

At a time when our country appears ready to split at the seams over a number of issues, we are prepared to tackle one of the more polarizing ones. In keeping with our company motto of presenting imaginative, avant-garde theatre that makes no apologies and no concessions, we are absolutely thrilled to offer a world-premiere work that so exemplifies that statement. Written in verse and utilizing movement, music, and fim, this will be a giant step forward for Vernal & Sere Theatre.

Nurse Kathrine Barnes
Mother Dear Jason Louder
Greek Chorus Mary Kathryn Martin
Jason Spencer Kolbe Miller
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Medea Stillborn
by playgoer
Monday, July 10, 2017
Vernal & Sere Theatre has a developing aesthetic that involves making its audiences wait in the lobby until curtain time and denies them the release of an evening-ending curtain call. At the performance of "Medea Unborn" I attended, the audience sat in the semi-darkness that masquerades as "house lights on" for an extended period of time after the play ended, people sporadically restarting applause in the hopes of getting the actors onstage to receive well-deserved accolades of appreciation. But Vernal & Sere seems more interested in its artistic integrity than in stooping to make its audiences comfortable (even with its assortment of chairs).

To start the show, the audience is ushered into a space in which shadows of the three Greek chorus members (Chelsea Christopher, Mary Kathryn Martin, and Simone Monet) make synchronized dance movements on the two fabric panels that flank a projection screen playing a loop of film in which Medea (Erin Boswell) gazes on with displeasure as her ex-husband Jason (Spencer Kolbe Miller) dallies with Creusa (Madelyn Wall) at a party apparently hosted by Creusa’s father, Creon (Reed Sellers). The film and dance movements loop to a repetitive score as Medea lies motionless on the floor at the feet of the audience. A rumpled bed stage left is the only set piece onstage at the start.

Lindsey Sharpless’s lighting changes subtly as the play begins, the film segment playing yet again, but this time with a more strident accompanying soundtrack. Then lights come up on the stage as the film ends, and Medea rises to give the first of her many monologues. Ms. Boswell is a fantastic actress, whose expressiveness easily floats across to the audience and whose intensity and projection impress with every syllable.

When she is joined onstage by a hospital bed and cart and nurse (Kathrine Barnes), the tone changes, and Ms. Barnes’ lack of projection in the small theater makes her words sometimes difficult to hear. Ms. Barnes is called upon to act naturalistically, then to indicate "I’m being stylized now" before returning to her normal self. The shifts don’t ring true, although they add a bit of intended humor to the unrelievedly grim tone of the classical story of Medea. This adaptation does not take place in antiquity, however; the nurse is giving Medea a sonogram, with video of a moving fetus projected on the center screen (after it showed a Norton Anti-virus pop-up in the performance I attended, in a bit of probably unintended humor).

In this adaptation, Medea is visibly pregnant with twins, rather than having had two small children with Jason already. This doesn’t change the classical plot much. Other things do. In a twist owing in part to the myth of Creon’s sister Jocasta and her son Oedipus, the relationship between Creon and his daughter Creusa is sexually charged and perverted, with Mr. Sellers appearing most often onstage with his pants down, and in shadow form miming masturbation. It’s a pretty thankless role, and Mr. Sellers doesn’t succeed in being more than a caricature.

Madelyn Wall is given a couple of nice passages as Creusa that allow her to show her acting chops and give insights into Creusa’s troubled soul. Mr. Miller, though, as two-timing Jason, has less opportunity to emote, having to share his scenes with others. Director Erin Colleen O’Connor has made sure the monologues land in this ponderously paced production, but they slow down the storyline. The intermittent scenes of action can’t budge the glacial movement of the story.

Act two starts with the stage right fabric panel pulled aside, revealing Medea nude in her bathtub (but in G-rated fashion). This leads to musings on self-cutting (another "let’s make this modern and relevant" touch), and a scene with Jason in which both end up in the tub. It’s far less titillating than might be expected.

The second act progresses as in the classical myth up to Creusa’s death, which, as we’re told, has had to be modernized, since the magical poisons and potions of myth are discredited by Medea herself. Things really go off track when Jason Louder appears as Tyler Perry’s Madea, in an obvious parallel to the entry of Jesus H. Christ in Mac Wellman’s "Sincerity Forever" (the first Vernal & Sere production). The storyline then veers into a discussion of abortion that seems totally jarring and modern.

Sawyer Estes has written a play that Erin Colleen O’Connor’s direction has brought to life, but it’s a curiously misshapen life. Ms. Boswell and Ms. Wall are given heartfelt monologues that they deliver with power and boundless sincerity, but others in the cast are given far less to do. The Greek Chorus in particular dance and sing a lullaby, but are otherwise mute, acting as stagehands as much as anything. Stage pictures and monologues are given prime consideration, with the arc of the play muddled by the desire to raise modern issues. The striking similarities to "Sincerity Forever" suggest that Vernal & Sere may have fallen into a rut in a span of just two productions. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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