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Munich Medea: Happy Family

A powerful modern Greek tragedy in the story of two best friends and the actor father of one of the girls.

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[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

Crystal Finn and Heather Ruffo on floor level, Kurt Rhoads (above) in a scene from Corinne Jaber’s “Munich Medea: Happy Family” at WP Theater (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Although the world premiere of Corinne Jaber’s Munich Medea: Happy Family starts slowly and doesn’t reveal its real issue until almost halfway through, it eventually is as powerful as a Greek tragedy which is implied by its title. Lucidly staged for PlayCo and WP Theater by Lee Sunday Evans, artistic director of Waterwell, the cast of three is excellent though by the nature of her role Heather Raffo is the most commanding.

The play’s awkward title is an amalgam of a great many items in the play. Mainly set in Munich, Germany, where the author as well as her heroines grew up, The Father (played by Kurt Rhoads) is a famous actor appearing in Euripides’ Medea during which the most traumatic events of the play take place. The concept of “happy families” is one both Caroline, daughter of the actor (Crystal Finn), and Alice, her best friend from age 11 to 16 (Raffo), wish for but do not seem to achieve, at least as teenagers. Medea certainly portrays the opposite of a happy family with Jason abandoning his wife Medea to take a second wife.

Crystal Finn in a scene from Corinne Jaber’s “Munich Medea: Happy Family” at WP Theater (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Written in highly poeticized language, the three characters address the audience in alternating monologues as the story builds up to first its horrifying climax and then ultimately to its accepting denouement. Caroline talks of her troubled home life in which her mother went to bed early every night in order not to know what her father was doing. She is so glad to make a friend of Alice at age 11 to fill in the void but this ended suddenly when the girls were 16 and Alice transferred out of her school. Her Father talks of the life of an actor, needing to be all things to all people, but having emotional needs of his own.

Alice tells us of her emotionally barren home life and being so happy when Caroline’s Father takes an interest in her. However, what she first perceives as seduction later is seen as rape, and his cruelty is revealed when he drops her off to take the train home after an abortion so that they won’t be found out. Twenty years later the women meet to come to terms with their pasts and tell each other what went on in those days, when Caroline reveals a terrible secret Alice never knew.

Heather Ruffo in a scene from Corinne Jaber’s “Munich Medea: Happy Family” at WP Theater (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Raffo is forceful from the beginning as her anger overtakes her and she tells us of her life before and after. She is commanding whether talking about her childhood, her infatuation with theater and Caroline’s Father, and then how she handled things after the event. Finn is quite endearing as the daughter who felt betrayed by all around her, telling her story in a low-key, underplayed delivery always seeming in control and on an even keel. As the duplicitous father whom we suspect did this countless times, Rhoads is superficially charming, compelling in his delivery of his classic speeches from various major roles in his career.

Kristen Robinson’s two-level set gives each character his or her own space which also defines them and their lives. The costumes by Dina El-Aziz which the actors wear throughout this short play characterize them from the moment we see them. Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s moody lighting is as much a character as the script, creating ominous and long shadows as well as dimly lit rooms as though only faintly remembered.

Kurt Rhoads in a scene from Corinne Jaber’s “Munich Medea: Happy Family” at WP Theater (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Like its unwieldy title, Corinne Jaber’s Munich Medea: Happy Family takes its time getting where it is going but is ultimately powerful and revealing in its almost unspeakable tale. It deals with difficult material but finds a way to tell its shocking story that eventually involves many people. Under Lee Sunday Evans’ direction, Crystal Finn, Kurt Rhoads and especially Heather Raffo impress through their characterizations and the baring of their souls. The play never talks down to us but confides in us as though we were complicit in not putting a stop to these long ago horrifying events. This attempt at a modern Greek tragedy is quite successful in a genre rarely seen these days.

Munich Medea: Happy Family (through February 25, 2024)

PlayCo and WP Theater

WP Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, 4th Floor, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 929-458-0636 or visit http://www.wptheater.org

Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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