Review by Michael Bracken
Don’t we have enough already? What with Euripides’s original and numerous revivals, retellings, and adaptations on stage, film, and television (not to mention an opera), do we really need another take on the grisly Greek tragedy?
Well, “need” would be pushing it, but if you’re talking about Aaron Mark’s Another Medea at the Wild Project, “want “ would be right on target. His gay variant of the myth of the spurned wife avenging her husband’s betrayal by murdering their children is vivid, original, and mesmerizing. And it’s done with one table, one chair, one actor, and simple but effective lighting (by Brant Thomas Murray).
Structurally, it’s a monologue within a monologue (arguably within another monologue) yet it never seems talky or static. The script is tight and subtle. Like the central character, we are seduced: he by a sinuous snake of a British oncologist and we by a dynamic pairing of play and player. As the realization sinks in that this is indeed another Medea, replete with gory, if unseen, details, we’re both enthralled and horrified, knowing that seduction (at least his) will inevitably lead to ruin.
An unnamed, bespectacled narrator (Tom Hewitt), shaken to the point he has difficulty speaking, introduces the story. When he finally manages to talk, he tells us he’s an actor who once replaced a colleague named Marcus Sharp in a production at Lincoln Center. Sometime later, Marcus was incarcerated for unspecified and unspeakable acts. The speaker wanted to interview him and, after two years of persistent persuasion, got Marcus to agree.
In a concrete-walled visiting room at a maximum security prison, Hewitt, removing his glasses, morphs into Marcus. And we’re off to the races. Marcus describes his life as an established but struggling actor, barely making ends meet. One night, after a performance at the Actors Playhouse, he meets Jason, the boyfriend of a fellow cast member named Clifford.
Jason is a wealthy British doctor whom Marcus finds “frighteningly charming.” By the next night, Jason has dumped Clifford, sent Marcus roses, and asked him out to dinner. Clearly we’re being told constancy is not Jason’s strong suit. But Marcus isn’t listening. He becomes Jason’s lover and soon moves in with him.
For Jason’s sake, Marcus turns down one, and then another, acting gig, trashing his career in the process. As Marcus relates how Jason slowly, gently weaves a gossamer web of dependence around him, Hewitt does double duty, alternating effortlessly and expertly between Jason’s oily English persona and Marcus’s increasingly desperate self. Focus, intensity, concentration: they’re all there without calling attention to themselves. And his transitions from character to character are instantaneous and invisible. Marcus’s descent into a hell of insecurity is tracked, step by step, with smooth precision.
In an attempt to both please and hold onto Jason, Marcus engineers the birth of twin girls (with Jason’s sister as surrogate) for him and Jason to parent. Jason meets a pretty young thing and tells Marcus he’s leaving him. The rest is true to its Greek ancestor, except that there’s no deus ex machina. Quite the contrary.
The tension toward the end of Another Medea is almost unbearable. You want to close your eyes even though there’s nothing not to see. Hewitt’s restrained ferocity, which has grown steadily throughout, reaches a boiling point in the narrative but stays at a fairly constant simmer in the telling.
Back in the beginning of the play, the narrator describes Marcus as “the kind of person you might be fascinated by but don’t necessarily want to get too close to.” It’s a rather broad definition, but Hewitt illustrates it with impeccable, haunting specificity. Directed by playwright Mark, he delivers a performance that’s nothing short of breathtaking.
Another Medea, presented by All for One Solo Theater, plays through January 31 at The Wild Project (195 E 3rd Street). For more information, visit www.allforonetheater.org/anothermedea
*Photo: Ken Stern