Durang Durang: Medea and The Actor’s Nightmare
The second set of plays in Hofstra’s Spring 2016 Student Showcase lineup were Christopher Durang’s brisk tragicomedies Medea and The Actor’s Nightmare, two pieces that consider the ways in which performance can bring order and disorder, respectively, to the ordeals of lived reality. Cleverly directed, well acted, and insightful, the duo makes for an entertaining and thought-provoking evening, and provides an excellent vehicle for the talents of several members of the Class of 2016.
Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang’s Medea, directed by Max Cerci as a frenetic 20-minute piece, translates the hardships of a modern urban woman into the language and structure of Euripedes’ timeless tragedy. At its surface level, the play appears a modern send-up of classical tragedy. It is complete with a melodramatic chorus that drops more pop-cultural catchphrases than Oprah. However, the tragic experience of the main character reveals itself to be more poignant. Abandoned by her husband and left to rot, she cries for a “creative outlet,” and uses Medea as a vehicle to order her life by expressing her deepest, most violent desires and ultimately containing them through a deus ex machina. Cerci’s direction places Durang’s humor right on the border between real despair and comic melodrama, pacing the action so that it pushes the limit of each mode before bounding to the other. Moreover, Maia Baird (’16) gives an excellent, virtuosic performance as Medea in this liminal emotional space. In comic moments, she chews the scenery to the audience’s amusement, but allows her character’s true desperation to show through the cracks of her histrionic facade.
The second piece of the evening, Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare, reverses Medea’s revisionist performance by examining the disordered, absurdist nature of social performance and human existence. This hilarious play follows an accountant, Greg, who is mistaken for an actor and forced to perform in four plays for which he doesn’t know the lines. As he stumbles through Private Lives, Hamlet, Checkmate (a Beckett parody), and A Man for All Seasons, Greg’s personal biography mixes with the dramatic action, blurring the boundaries between theatricality and his own life. Director Ian Strong creates a kinetic, nonstop comic action around the play’s witty dialogue, but his cast’s performances are a mixed bag. Ben Koster (’16) gives a nuanced performance as Greg, but doesn’t quite reach the depth of character that Baird achieves in Medea. While comic timing was often inconsistent among the cast, Autumn Wehry (’17) kept the audience rolling in the aisles with her portrayal of a monotone Beckettian heroine.
Overall, the combination of these two plays made for an entertaining and thought-provoking hour of theater and an excellent break from studying for exams.