Euripedes’s original play has inspired countless iterations. Above, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale in the new production at BAM. Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg.
For every bestseller that has a hot moment on the book club circuit, there is a story that will never go out of fashion. Oedipus and his father fixation, Icarus and his scrape with the sun, and modern myths like The Age of Innocence
and Little Women
—all narratives we keep returning to. And then there are the classics that don’t merely survive the vicissitudes of time, but take on a whole new relevance. Medea, a tale about a woman who exacts revenge on her unfaithful husband, is a meditation on female rage and pain that was executed in the 4th century BC and is perfectly calibrated for the #MeToo era.Euripedes’s work was not an instant hit when it was first performed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 16th century that it was rediscovered and became a part of the western canon. Young British writer and director Simon Stone’s reworking of the play, starring real-life couple Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale and on limited run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, feels stingingly relevant. The show runs at under ninety minutes and goes down easy, with contemporary dialogue and references (those who show up early will find the actors who play the couple’s young sons hanging out on the stage, zoning out into their iPads). This version melds the classic story with details taken the real-life story of Debora Green, a Kansas physician who poisoned her husband and killed their two children in a house fire in 1995. Cannavale and Byrne play Lucas and Anna, a couple that met two decades ago at a medical research lab—the same lab, as it happens, where Lucas meets his younger, newer love interest.
Cannavale, whose hooded eyes and streetwise charm have a way of stealing scenes (and hearts), plays it low-key in this production. He’s smart to hang back and let Byrne run with the show, and not just because it’s the politically correct thing to do. Her performance is emotionally aerobic, and thanks to a real-time film projected in close-up above the stage, nobody will miss the range of heartbreak and madness playing across her face. It can be tough-going to experience her desertion and desperation, and the applause that the audience breaks into at the end of the show is tinged with relief. When the cast heads backstage so Byrne can come running out for a solo bow, the viewers shoot up in their seats for a standing ovation. The pain was all hers, and so is the glory.