By Megan Mooney
This review is cross-posted with blogTO
The two plays have completely different tones – although they have similar thematic feeling with discussions of loss and family and identity – which makes it a great evening. The first show, Late, is funny and heartwarming with moments of sadness alternated with great guffaws. The second, Black Medea, is an intense exploration into the characters’ psyches that drew me in with symbolism, dance and mischievous spirits.
My theatre-partner for this one was John, a great lover of the theatre, but he can also be hard to please at times. This evening pleased him.
So, first let’s talk about Late. The show is about death, but it’s funny. My gut is telling me the best way to describe this is that it’s a ‘friendly’ piece, but I’m not sure that actually explains anything. It’s not exactly a ‘slice of life’ play, but it’s not far from it. There aren’t really any sort of abstract moments and the action flows logically; I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s what most people think of as a ‘normal’ play. Marcia Johnson’s script is nicely complemented by Majorie Chan’s playful direction and strong performances from all three actors – Mazin Elsadic, Edwige Jean-Pierre and Sabryn Rock.
Black Medea isn’t quite so ‘friendly’ – but I was very glad to have seen it. After the show John said to me “Well, that was solidly in the ‘have no idea what to expect’ category, and now it’s in the ‘blew me away’ category.” That kind of sums up my thoughts too. As you may have guessed (if you studied such things in high school), the script is based on the Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, which is based on the myth of Jason and Medea. But this is no dry ancient Greek script. It’s set in Australia, the characters are Australian Aboriginals, it’s full of modern anger, vitriol, bitterness, fear, betrayal, uncertainty and on and on. I realize that doesn’t sound like much fun, but the power on stage is mesmerizing.
The performances in this piece were incredible. Medea, played by Audrey Dwyer, a woman who is possibly shorter than me (trust me, that’s an impressive feat), exudes intoxicating power from her slight frame. She presents a strong and determined figure, willing to fight for what she needs. Of course, requisite in any Greek tragedy is the chorus, which in this case was played by Mariah Inger and Tiffany Martin. Somehow they managed to be very different from each other, but very similar to each other at the same time. The way they played off each other, and the rest of the cast, was a thing of beauty. Lindsay Owen Pierre, who plays Jason, brings an intense and sometimes scary level of anger to the stage. He’s very good at making us not like him. And, last, but certainly not least, the performance of Meleke Bell who played the role of the child – he managed to play the role without upstaging the other actors – an impressive feat for a child on stage.
Philip Akin directs this piece with flare. From the staging of the piece to the performances he draws from his actors, the whole piece is truly impressive. When I asked John what his overall impression of the piece was, he said one word – Beautiful. And I can’t agree more.
In fact, there was only one thing that felt a bit overdone, and we both commented on it. The show is filled with tableaus, snapshots of the lives of the characters to move the story along, showing the audience that these people have lives outside of what we see in the show. The idea is solid, and we liked it at first, but it became too much. It felt like too many tableaus for us, or perhaps just too long in darkness between tableaus (although, we both recognize that the actors need time to shift places).
The bottom line is that we enjoyed both plays, and they were a comfortable juxtaposition with each other. I liked that Obsidian didn’t feel that since the plays were a double bill they had to be very similar. Sometimes it’s nice to have some variety within a single night. If it were up to me, I’d find a way to get everyone to see these shows.
– Black Medea runs until October 5 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley)
– Show time at 8pm Tuesdays to Saturdays, 2pm matinee on Sundays
– Ticket available from the box office at 416-368-3110 or online, with prices ranging from $20 to $30, with a $5 discount for Students/Seniors/Arts Workers.
Photo of Tiffany Martin, Linday Owen Pierre, Mariah Inger by David Hou