nytheatre.com review by Chance Muehleck
The Greeks have given us more fuel
to fire our contemporary theatre than perhaps any other group or time
period. We cannot escape their work, so why not reinvent it? Ian
Belton’s MedeaMachine is a non-linear wet dream based very
loosely on Euripides’ tragedy, tipping its absurdist cap to Heiner
Mueller and a host of other experimental artists. The production,
playing at The Present Company Theatorium, is a collection of scenes,
monologues and tableaus that is as stimulating as it is retrograde and
August 15, 2002
Our first clue that we needn’t take all this too seriously comes when an actor holds up a sign that reads, "This is an idea that was hip in the 90’s," followed by "The avant garde is dead." Possibly, but Belton and his actors are up to something. There is a constant, kinetic energy onstage that blends various presentational styles with willful, post-modern abandon. Actual accounts of killers (including Andrea Yates, the poor man’s Medea) run headlong into multi-faceted stories of a breast surgery gone wrong. The stage becomes littered with cereal boxes and severed body parts, while sound effects punctuate nearly every gesture.
One man is teamed with (or pitted against) six bloodthirsty women, all of whom give tour-de-force performances; just as we begin to see these relationships deepen, we are ushered outside for the second part of the drama. It is then that Belton shows his hand as a writer/director who uses all the old tricks in the hopes of finding new ones. The audience is led across the street, via recorded boom-box directions, to a basketball court where our leading ladies dribble in matching orange jumpsuits. Some of the show’s best speeches are reserved for this location; however, the neighborhood itself becomes difficult to compete with, and I was frequently distracted by the heckling passerby.
Clearly, this is not a company that believes less is more. Belton uses two automobiles in his denouement because, it seems, he can, just as a TV monitor wheeled onstage serves no necessary purpose. Perhaps he’s worried that our attention will wander, having no individual characters with which to engage. For all its cleverness, MedeaMachine is ultimately a rather cold experience; in a final act of defiance, the actors leave the playing area without a bow or backward glance. Belton’s rule-breaking homage to "downtown" theatre makes it a natural for FringeNYC, but I wonder if the next step is to evolve the whole genre into something truly cathartic.