Constellation Theatre Company has started their season with a bang. “Children of Medea” is an intense, harrowing work, interspersed with moments of joy. The playwright and actor, Sue Jin Song, mesmerizes with her multi-layered portrayals of all the characters.
This is a bold production that pulls you in and leaves you shaken.
We first meet her as Medea, not the crazed harridan of Greek myth, but as the cast-aside wife of Jason who is fearful for what may be planned for her children. She is furious over the betrayal of herself as a woman and a partner. This sets the tone for the rest of the story, and you can feel that on-going betrayal of women reverberating through the centuries.
As Cynthia, she is a 17-year-old Korean-American girl whose mother has disappeared without a trace. Under a great deal of pressure, she is trying to stay at the top of her class and help raise her younger sister, Julianne, while meeting the expectations of her father. Cynthia and her sister were born in the United States where her parents immigrated.
I can’t give away any more plot points. As the pressures mount, Cynthia escapes into a dreamworld at various times with Peter Pan, Medea, and Alice in Wonderland. She wants and needs her mother, and so does her little sister.
Song is a gifted actress. She morphs from a 10-year-old Julianne to Cynthia to Medea, the rock and the strength to which she is clinging. She’s also very funny when she portrays her father. You can just see in your mind this emotionally closed-off immigrant who remains an enigma, grunting his replies to his daughters. A few times Song becomes Cynthia and Julianne’s mother, and the transformation brings joy and heartache in equal doses. But she completely shines as Julianne. Song perfectly embodies the guilelessness and confidence of a young girl who is just beginning to recognize that there are also gray areas in a black-and-white world.
The set is simply stunning. Filmed on Constellation’s stage, scenic designer A.J. Guban, scenic artist Megan Hart, and props designer George “Tommy” Wang hav created a home, a forest, a maze, a park, a portal to Wonderland —all within the confines of Constellation’s Stage. Lighting designer A.J. Guban creates as much atmosphere as the set itself does.
Director Allison Arkell Stockman and choreographer Tori Tolentino collaborated seamlessly to keep the action moving and in line with the characters. There is a sense of menace and, somehow, finality in Cynthia’s attempts to try to manage a world that is not kind to women and girls.
This is a bold production that pulls you in and leaves you shaken. It goes in unexpected directions, but always hews back to the center. That center seems to be saying that we are all Medea and we will not be ignored.
Two small caveats, however. On the evening I watched it, I found myself wishing I could somehow reach through the screen and turn up the volume on the sound board. Judging from the comments in the chat that was happening to other patrons as well. Also the mystery surrounding the mother seemed to simply lose force and ebb away. But even so, I highly recommend this show.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Strobe light, strong language and adult themes. Recommended for those over 16.
“Children of Medea” runs through May 16, 2021. This production is being pre-recorded and presented virtually through on-demand streaming by Constellation Theatre Company, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here.