Of monsters and men

In which I can’t be expected to judge Rose Byrne objectively.

Apologies for the impromptu hiatus, but rest assured I was using my time away from this newsletter to see as much theater, stream as many horror films, and binge as much Housewives as possible to give me ample material for upcoming posts. And then I decided to inflict some capsule reviews on you, because, well, I’m impatient to get my thoughts out. More to the point, it’s been a while since I recommended theater, and I love getting to hear from people who saw shows I wrote about and ended up loving them. (Weirdly, I almost never hear from people who hated whichever show they saw on my recommendation, so I can only assume I have perfect taste!)

In this case, I decided to write about some plays I actually had mixed feelings about but that I still felt were worth seeing. On the other hand, I recognize that I have comps privilege, and not everyone has the time or money or interest required to see theater that I’d call “flawed but worthwhile.” Nevertheless!

Medea

The problem with me reviewing a play starring Rose Byrne is that I would literally gush about Rose Byrne in anything. She is one of the greatest actors working today — supremely underrated no matter how many accolades she’s getting. (I feel like at this point it’s become a Gay Twitter cliché that she should have been nominated for an Oscar for Spy, but, well, she should have been nominated for an Oscar for Spy.) Obviously I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Rose Byrne do Medea, especially alongside the also great Bobby Cannavale, her IRL husband. It’s always fun seeing real-life spouses play a couple onstage, and even more so when the material is this fucked-up.

Naturally, people are very interested in this production of Medea, a new (loose) adaptation by Simon Stone. But when I’ve been asked for my thoughts, I haven’t been able to muster much past “Rose Byrne is amazing.” Because Rose Byrne is amazing, and it’s worth seeing Medea in the sense that one should never pass up the opportunity to see Rose Byrne onstage. That having been said, I’m not sure what this adaptation is trying to say exactly. If you’re going to do a modern take on Medea, you have to be very deliberate in avoiding the easy pitfall of misogyny. And while I admire Stone’s efforts to build compassion for the title character, she’s ultimately still a monster who inadvertently plays into some unfortunate tropes. If anything, trying to ground this classic myth in the real world of 2020 makes her climactic acts of violence that much harder to swallow.

Buy tickets to Medea here.

Dracula

Shout out to Classic Stage Company for the clever idea of doing new adaptations Dracula and Frankenstein in rep. I missed the latter, but I caught Dracula last week, and found myself charmed by Kate Hamill’s cheeky feminist reinvention of the story. Dracula has been — sorry — done to death, so I can’t say I was all that enthused about seeing it originally. (If CSC wanted to do a stripped-down Dance of the Vampires, however…) But even if this Dracula didn’t feel quite as revolutionary as it could have, it was still fresh and fun, and by the time we got to the play’s exciting new iteration of Van Helsing, I was pretty much under its thrall.

At the same time, while I was mostly entranced, I did occasionally find myself frustrated by this Dracula’s inconsistency. There are some tonal shifts that caught me off-guard: I’m all for a blend of satire and sincerity, but these moments didn’t feel particularly earned. This Dracula is at its best when it’s diving deep into absurdity. I didn’t mind so much that some of the themes were hammered home so unsubtly when the production as a whole felt larger-than-life — going broad allows for that sort of thing. And on the whole, it’s a lot of fun, underlined by Hamill’s note in the script: “There is no point in doing a vampire play if you can’t have fun in doing so. If you explore the glee, the darkness will also pop.” Wise words!

Buy tickets to Dracula here.

Hamlet

I feel about Hamlet the way I feel about Rose Byrne — my fandom is too deep and my adoration too intense for an objective review. To put it bluntly, I will pretty much always fuck with Hamlet. As basic as it may be to declare Hamlet one’s favorite Shakespeare, Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare. Even the worst production is still Hamlet, and so I simply can’t be trusted when I recommend one. Which is my long-winded (and backhanded) way of saying that I really enjoyed the production currently running at St. Ann’s Warehouse, led by the phenomenal Ruth Negga in the title role. It’s Hamlet starring Ruth Negga! Part of me just wants to flail (and urge you to find a way to see it).

But despite my stanning, I can acknowledge where I felt the production faltered, aside from my feeling that Hamlet is simply too long (even in a slightly truncated version) to be performed without a second intermission. There were times when the show didn’t seem to have a cohesive perspective, resting solely on the strength of the material and Negga’s performance. And I mean, that’s plenty! But I felt like it could have used a more deliberate point of view. To that end, I will say that I thought the cuts made were smart, and helped create a truly haunting (if also, yes, sometimes aimless) production.

Buy tickets to Hamlet here.

Photo via BAM/Richard Termine.