“Please clap.” At the beginning of Yara Travieso’s grueling 90-minute immersive nightmare La Medea, we were instructed to clap any time a song ends. A few minutes later, a song-and-dance number reached its anticlimactic end, and the performer who told us to clap initiated the clapping herself. So went my evening at BRIC House in Fort Greene, where PS122 presented Travieso’s “dance-theater performance and feature film à la Latin-disco-pop variety show” as part of COIL.
La Medea is not the Medea most of us know from high school English class, or from that one seminar we took in college on Ancient Greek mythology. Instead, Travieso presents her audience with many Medeas: five of them in fact. One expresses herself through gorgeous dance. One expresses herself by singing along with the live in-house band, cleverly (if not too on-the-nose) named Jason and the Argonauts. And one Medea, in the exciting moment of the evening, expresses her frustration through an all-too-brief burst of flamenco with less than ten minutes left in the performance. I found myself wishing that the previous 80 minutes were as ferociously emotional.
Bouncing back and forth between a concert and television special filmed in front of a live studio audience, the dramaturgy of the evening was as shallow as the mass media it was trying to explore. We never really learned much about who these Medeas are, or about why she decides to kill her children, or why the audience is being subjected to this performance which, by the way, is apparently being live-streamed to an international audience, as it is being performed and projected onto a large movies screen that dominates one wall of BRIC’s main ballroom.
I found myself considering what was happening on the screen for most of the show, not only because I am a tiny man and couldn’t see what the hell was going on because the playing spaces weren’t elevated high enough off the floor, but because what the live-editing was able to capture via two roving cameras (repeatedly referred to as Medea’s “babies”) and three or four stationary cameras was actually far more interesting than the rest of the experience. For example, in person, one of the Medeas seemed to be writhing around underneath a sheer gold blanket with one of the camera operators, but onscreen we saw Medea in a dream, bathing in golden light. Moments like this were lovely surprises that were, frankly, ruined, by the addition of lowbrow questions supposedly submitted from online audience members around the world. After the audience members’ questions were read, there were then scripted questions deceptively added in at the end of each of these sequences, asking Medea why she killed her kids and how it feels to be exiled.
For most of the show, the audience surrounded a small wooden platform in the center of the space, close enough to see the whites of fellow audience members’ eyes. While glancing around, I was looking to lock eyes with someone, hoping to briefly commiserate, to confirm that what I was seeing was indeed real. The best moment of the night was during the flamenco bit, when I locked eyes with a woman across the circle from me, she and I both flooded with relief that finally, there was some emotion present.