Medea's Kids Get Underwhelming Story in "The Children"
Several years ago, the Theatre@Boston Court did a stunning presentation of Medea, galvanized by Lisa Tharps’ unforgettable lead performance, a show that was one of the best I’ve seen since I started covering theatre in 1997. It was a reminder why certain plays live on as classics, no matter how old they are. The new production at Boston Court, a modern take on the Medea story by playwright Michael Elyanow called The Children, is not a classic. In fact, it’s a bad play with the odd grace note of a strong conclusion that points clearly to how strong the show could be if rewritten extensively.
The story begins in ancient Greece, where Medea's children, Brother (Sonny Valicenti) and Sister (Paige Lindsey White), are in imminent danger of being murdered by their mother. The concerned Woman of Corinth (Adriana Sevahn Nichols) steals Medea’s spell book and transports the children and Medea’s bewildered Nursemaid (Jacqueline Wright) away into the future, specifically present-day Maine. Once there, the Nursemaid secretly begins making plans to return the kids to their mother, but these schemes are delayed by the resistance of the Woman, the appearance of a Sheriff (Daniel Blinkoff) and the looming disaster of an oncoming hurricane.
Valicenti and White, who also operate the puppets that stand in for the children, are victims of the play’s biggest single problem—the children are offstage most of the time. When they are onstage, Elyanow hasn’t given them much of interest to do or say until the very end, where the purpose lacking in the rest of the piece suddenly appears. In the concluding scenes, Valicenti and White are compelling and emotionally affecting. Nichols and Wright are stuck with one-note characters—the Woman is simply good and the Nursemaid is misguided—but Nichols fares better in a low-key performance than Wright does in a more frantic turn, trying in vain to create some dramatic energy in the dead zone of the first two-thirds of the show. The concluding reveal of what’s going on with Blinkoff’s character is interesting, but generally the role is dull and unbelievable—the monologue about a Burmese python singularly fails to convince.
Director Jessica Kubzansky delivers a lovely piece of theatre magic at the show’s conclusion, where lights, sound effects, the actors and puppets, and the ingenious use of falling lights and a rising blue fabric combine felicitously, but the bulk of the staging feels uninspired. Elyanow has a few intriguing ideas here, but the play’s focus seems misplaced. It’s called The Children, but the majority of stage time belongs to the adults, and they don’t seem to have anything interesting to say. Also, the use of puppets to represent the kids adds little as the play currently stands—if you’re going to use puppets, give them a reason to be there instead of live actors.
“The Children” plays at the Theatre@Boston Court through June 10. Tickets are available online.