Director and adaptor Simon Stone’s contemporary take on Medea shrinks the tragedy to such an individual level that the deeper questions surrounding the way society mistreats women get sidelined in the particulars of these messy characters.
Stone’s adaptation of Euripides is loosely based on true events. Anna (Rose Byrne) is a mentally unstable doctor who has just been released from a psychiatric facility into the care of her soon-to-be ex-husband Lucas (Bobby Cannavale). Anna has done something unspeakable that caused her to lose her medical licence and custody of her children.
As she tries to get her old life back, Byrne convincingly conveys Anna’s desperate hold on her sanity – until it slips – often deploying a strained, acquiescent smile to mask her panic. Alongside her, the sturdy Cannavale does not wilt, at least not wholly, when Anna drops her façade and rightly pegs him as weak.
Stone destabilises things further by presenting scenes via video and underscoring them with a metallic, electric hum. He traps everyone in an infinite white void where his primary visual tools – blood and ash – are amplified.
Stone uses his camera to zoom into Anna’s eyes but that does not readily translate into critique as his woman-in-a-fishbowl staging of Yerma did. In fact, Stone’s reductive approach, focusing on her illness, saps Anna of power and voice. Only his final sequence, narrated Greek-chorus style, remains chilling in its stark illustration of filicide.
Euripides’ Medea is a piece of astonishing and terrifying rage, like lava, but Stone’s production reduces Anna’s narrative to one of breakdown.