Reviews NYCOff-Broadway Published 12 February 2024

Review: Munich Medea: Happy Family at WP Theater

WP Theater ⋄ 30th January - 25th February 2024

A chilling story of childhood sexual assault is given a retrospective gloss by two women and suffers from some structural detachment. Nicole Serratore reviews.

Nicole Serratore

Crystal Finn and Heather Raffo in Munich Medea (Photo: Julia Cervantes)

Watching a man pick at his toes on stage is a bit disgusting. But it is not the worst thing this man has done, by a long shot.

In Corinne Jaber’s play, Father (Kurt Rhoads) is a pontificating ass of an actor in Munich. He is starring as Jason in Medea. He is preening, narcissistic, always quoting German plays and poets, and putting on his booming stage voice while backstage at the theater. Even while cleaning his toes, his eyes are fluttering, always looking for an audience.

For a time, he has also been in a sexual relationship with Alice (Heather Raffo), the 16-year-old best friend of his daughter Caroline (Crystal Finn).

Speaking as an adult many years late, it takes Alice a long time to call this “rape.” Caroline bears her own guilt about what transpired between Alice and her Father, for her own reasons, which is why it takes her many years of therapy to get together again with Alice.

The entirety of the play is performed as monologues. Even when Alice and Caroline meet again as adults, Jaber has them speak in direct address to the audience describing the reunion. These three characters relay the events of their past to us—sharing their differing points of view.

Raffo and Finn create distinctive characters especially as they reflect on their teenage selves. Raffo looks like a vibrant teenager eager to sup at life. While Finn, projects an exterior calm hiding the interior nightmare she keeps to herself. Caroline’s excitement to have a friend who gets her is juxtaposed against Alice’s rebellious nature and her outsider status (she is Syrian-German and is not seen as German by those around her). Even in their costuming (by Dina El-Aziz), Caroline is polished, buttoned-up against Alice’s disheveled, looseness.

Jaber repeats words throughout these monologues—protection, silence, ritual, trespass, invasion, borderline, secrets, consent, happy families—suggesting a shared language between these survivors. But there is no togetherness or unity in the play. There cannot be. And this is an interesting twist of Jaber’s play and, also, a point of theatrical frustration.

Jaber’s play raises a really complex issue of how silence in abuse harms people in a multitude of ways. Her intention is to “reveal” rather than “judge” with these characters.  But because Jaber is avoiding direct confrontation in her storytelling approach this comes across as mentioned rather than explored. The fireworks that will happen are “told” to us and not shown to us.

While the topic of sexual assault, abuse, and rape of teenagers is horrific, this play holds these actions at arm’s length as the characters turn them over in their minds with years of life experience between then and now.

There is a slight detachment that makes the entire endeavor more (intentionally) chilling than emotionally gripping. Truly, the strongest emotion I felt was the disgust for Father (Rhoads sharp performance and Lee Sunday Evan’s direction too amp this up).

As the 75-minute play progressed, I increasingly did not want to hear from him. He just kept taking up space—space that these women deserved to occupy. One of the issues was this man forced all these women around him to be silent and keep his secrets and the fact that we are still trapped having to listen to him operates like an extension of this.

My distaste for having to share space with Father in this play, for a moment, reminded me of  Adam Lazarus’s play Daughter. (I still think about Alice Saville’s post-mortem of that show which could go into a lot more detail than I could in my short review).  To be clear, in no way is Jaber’s play abusive like Daughter was, but it left me wondering why she ceded so much to this man on the stage.

Kurt Rhoads in Munich Medea (Photo: Julia Cervantes)

With plays about abuse, I am always wondering who they are for. Not that these plays should not exist. But the vast chasm between people who have experienced abuse and those that have not seems like an untraversable distance. The art made to speak to one group may not be what the other group needs to hear.

Here, I did not need to hear from Father. Even within the play Caroline says:

“My mother

This play should be about her

She should be the lead

Neither Medea nor Munich

And not him my father either

Just an actor

Playing innumerable parts and getting away with it”

I am still pondering the point of Father. If you need to know what Father is like to validate the experiences of the women in the play then I think you have an empathy screw loose. And if he’s there so we can watch his progressive decline into old age it does not really work.

Maybe he is there because there is no cancel culture. These men do not evaporate when accusations are lodged or even if they are prosecuted. Even if they are put in prison, they live on (shout out to my former employer Harvey Weinstein who is still not dead). They rail against the women who destroyed them or the people who as Father says will “never understand.” But they persist.

Nicole Serratore

Nicole Serratore writes about theater for Variety, The Stage, American Theatre magazine, and TDF Stages. She previously wrote for the Village Voice and Flavorpill. She was a co-host and co-producer of the Maxamoo theater podcast. She is a member of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.

Review: Munich Medea: Happy Family at WP Theater Show Info

Produced by WP Theater, PlayCo

Directed by Lee Sunday Evans

Written by Corinne Jaber

Scenic Design Kristen Robinson (scenic), Dina El-Aziz (costume)

Lighting Design Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew

Sound Design Daniela Hart and UptownWorks

Cast includes Crystal Finn, Heather Raffo, Kurt Rhoads

Show Details & Tickets


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