‘Medea’ Theater Review: Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale Explode in Updated Greek Tragedy

Euripides gets a rewrite in Simon Stone’s new production at BAM

Last Updated: January 30, 2020 @ 6:44 PM

Can a woman be driven so over the edge that she’d do the unthinkable? That question has hovered over the protagonist of Euripides’ “Medea” for millennia — and it gets a fresh and stylized update in Simon Stone’s starry new production, which opened Thursday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Rose Byrne plays a modern version of the classic Greek antiheroine named Anna, a medical researcher whom we meet just after she has checked out of a psychiatric facility nearly a year after attacking her husband, Lucas (Bobby Cannavale). He’s a fellow researcher and former subordinate who has not only grown in reputation but is now dating the much-younger daughter (Madeline Weinstein) of the company’s boss (Dylan Baker, in full old-boys-club smarm mode).

Stone based his update in part on a real-life case — a Kansas City oncologist who poisoned her husband with ricin and then was convicted of killing two of her children in a fire she started. But he also injects elements of #TimesUp and postpartum depression in an attempt to make Anna less monstrous.

Byrne, an Emmy nominee for the drama series “Damages” who is lately known better for big-screen comedies like “Bridesmaids,” “Neighbors” and this month’s “Like a Boss,” gives a remarkable, often visceral performance as Anna — a woman whose struggle to maintain composure in the face of mounting bad news is amplified by Stone’s use of large video projections of the action (designed by Julia Frey) that capture every twitch of her eye and lip.

As Lucas, the husband who can’t quite let go of Anna even as his prolonged attachment frustrates his new lover, Cannavale projects a stolidness that can sometimes seem opaque. However, he has a natural rapport with Byrne (no surprise given their offstage relationship of seven years’ standing).

Stone’s updates of the script don’t always track — and his depiction of the couple’s two young TikTok-loving, camcorder-wielding sons (played at the performance I attended by Gabriel Amoroso and Emeka Guindo) is similarly messy. They seem either too old or too young, too tech-savvy and wise, or too brattily immature and innocent — as each scene demands.

Where the production succeeds is in Bob Cousins’ striking all-white set design, and in the shower of soot that begins to fall two-thirds of the way through the 90-minute show to foreshadow the tragic conclusion. “Why didn’t the pain ever stop?” Anna asks toward the end. It’s as if we are seeing inside the blank slate of Anna’s brain — and watching as the sadness and jealousy and rage accumulate until no one can see clearly through the resulting fog.

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