More information on Red Bull Theater's 2024 Off-Broadway Production of
MEDEA: RE-VERSED by Luis Quintero COMING SOON.
Conceived and directed by NATHAN WINKELSTEIN
Featuring Jason Bowen, Mark Martin, Luis Quintero, David Ryan Smith, Debbie Tjong, Skyler Volpe, and Sarin Monae West
SPECIAL EVENT | An ice-cold, high-octane adaptation of Euripides’ play written in battle rap verse, this brand new hip-hop version of Medea sheds contemporary light on the classic tragedy. This story reignites the sacred rage of our ancestors and explores the destruction that comes when a society suppresses and silences women.
How do you solve a problem like Medea? Her infamy is larger than life; it resists the constraints of the stage. There have been other terrifying anti-heroes in the history of tragedy, but a woman capable of killing her own children threatens to break the bounds of imagination. Even Lady Macbeth, a theatrical descendant who imagines dashing out the brains of a nursing infant, can’t steel herself to carry out actual violence, and ultimately subsides into madness and suicide. Medea, though, ends her play not beaten down but darkly triumphant. In the final scene of Euripides’ tragedy, she turns up to taunt her defeated husband from a winged chariot suspended above the stage. By occupying the position reserved for the deus ex machina, Medea reminds us that she’s semi-divine, the granddaughter of the sun god Helios. “There’s a deity’s entity in my identity,” she tells us in this brilliant adaptation. A supernaturally powered fury, she refuses to be reduced to human fragility.
Theatrical productions often try to humanize Medea by presenting her as descending into weakness and insanity after her husband’s abandonment. In Euripides’ version of her story, however, she’s defined less by heartbreak than by steely, strategic vindictiveness. Proud, fierce, and intent on honor, she’s a kind of epic hero whose fight lies in the domestic sphere. Jason has disrespected her by breaking his wedding vows, solemn oaths made before the gods, and her task is to ensure that he’s punished. Quintero gives us a Medea similarly defined by her power and insistence on justice. “There’s no peace for those / Who break oaths with me,” she warns Ageus. Later she tells the Chorus, “Now I see just how this ends / Justice for revenge.” Medea’s plan reflects a careful calculation to maximize Jason’s suffering, rather than a desperate burst of emotional frenzy.
Medea is defined above all by her acute intelligence. As a sorcerer, she’s defined by her skill with poisons and potions, and as an avenger, she deploys her words as drugs. She lulls Jason into complacency by playing the part of a weak, injured woman, flattering his ego while working out the components of her plan. Hip hop, with its rapid-fire swaggering verbal dexterity, offers a thrilling vehicle for this unsettling demigod. Luis Quintero’s incantatory rhymes situate Medea in a new version of Greek tragedy’s ritualized world, neither ancient nor modern but partaking of both. This is not just any domestic tragedy – as the chorus leader reminds us, “There’s Gods in this house.” The play dazzles with verbal pyrotechnics, promising the audience to “keep it clear with rhythm and stichomythia / so you can listen here to the tragedy of Medea.” But at its heart it asks us to examine what we’re doing in the theater, vicariously experiencing someone else’s catastrophe. “For there to be a tragedy somebody has to pay,” the chorus points out. “Who does it cost for us to pay to see a tragedy?”
- TANYA POLLARD | Professor of English, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
When I set out to adapt Medea I asked myself who am I writing this for? First, I needed to honor the memory of the original Medea. Meaning the very woman who fought for her own justice when no one else would. Her suffering was not a play, it was lived and I felt compelled to write with that reverence in mind. Second, to expand the traditional theater audience. I wanted to compose a piece that pushes the boundaries of musical theater and utilize a three-piece band with simple music that anyone could play. Thirdly, it needed to accentuate the live theatrical experience. In a world of streaming the communal exchange of vibration and energy in the present moment is what sets theater apart. So, I’m attempting to create a new form of theater that encourages you, the audience, to participate in the storytelling itself. Using these three pillars as my compass I began writing Medea.
To start I looked up the testimonies of women who had committed filicide to try to understand why they felt that was their only option and what kind of spousal relationships fostered these outcomes. I researched the Ancient Greek societal opinions of foreigners who they considered barbarians, something not so dissimilar to the opinions some Americans hold. With this research in mind I exposed myself to several adaptations of Medea and was captivated by her unique story. Despite the high mortality rate of childbirth and lack of medicine at that time, she survives her pregnancy only to be treated as an outcast by her village and adopted country, and emotionally abused and abandoned by her husband. My mission was to honor her suffering while daring to investigate the reasons behind her decisions.
When I thought about how to style the music I was hit by this brutal fact. My non-artist friends don’t listen to Musical Theater. The sound palette just doesn’t resonate with their tastes. So I set out to compose music and write verse that got them excited to come to see the show on the first listen. I explored the underbelly of hip hop. Medea is about blood, blades, betrayal, fate and fire and there are scores of albums in the Hip-Hop canon that are depictions of real-life people in similarly desperate situations. Suicidal thoughts by Biggie Smalls, Dance with the Devil by Immortal Technique, N.Y State of Mind by Nas, to name a few. I wanted to create a space for them in the theater. That meant I had to depart from the traditional form. I had to think grittier. Challenge the audience to keep up with the lyrics or, even better, earn their investment so much so that they return to listen again to catch all the double and triple meanings embedded in the words. No disrespect to the Tony voters in the seats I’m composing for the homies in the streets.
There is an intrinsic musicality to speech. The transition of vowels form melody, the consonants create percussion and rhythm. I am a student of Shakespeare and Hip-Hop as both are auditory experiences filled with metaphors, rhyme schemes and word play. Shakespeare also embraced the reality that there was a live audience viewing his plays. There is no fourth wall. The active participation of, and engagement with, the audience is paramount to the experience. I looked to Battle Rap culture to inspire this cross pollination. In Battle Rap the audience’ opinion is what matters most. This is how I built the scenes. Each interaction is a battle that the audience participates in. There’s no telling what punchlines will hit certain houses and which will not. Whose side will each audience be on? I don’t know - and that uncertainty, that openness, is what will create the irreplicable communal experience that IS theater.