Humble Materials, a physical theatre collective that creates femme-centric performances, presented their debut work titled MEDEA. Co-directed by Monica Flory and Jessica Noel, the work lives inside of theatre and dance as a way to retell the story of Medea. Jessica Noel stars as Medea alongside performers Anna Betteridge, Amy Henderson, Lauren Leonard, Chachi Perez, and Lisa Vaccarelli.
The work as a whole confronts perceptions of women, and how those perceptions are informed by their relations to men. Performing alongside Medea is a chorus of femme performers, who often represent an inner monologue for Medea. We see the chorus simultaneously support and tear down Medea as she falls further and further away from reality. Everything Medea experiences is in relation to men, either her husband, her male children, or her father. The chorus performers also have roles as other characters in Medea’s life, and they transform into those roles using masks. This made clear that the show is really about Medea, and that the other characters are two-dimensional in comparison to the layers we see of her.
Beginning with a strong movement section, we see the beauty in femininity on display by each and every one of the performers. The performers are all dressed in baggy white jumpsuits, the masculine framed costumes are a statement redefining the meaning of femme. They dance to a Bjork track, played from a portable CD player. Their movements are large and sweeping and the composition and arrangement of their bodies help us understand the story they begin to tell us. We see joy and love and sisterhood on display as the chorus helps Medea pursue her dreams of being a painter. Medea paints an imaginary canvas at the front of the stage, and it feels as if we the audience are the subjects of her painting. Together, they are creating a world on stage and admiring their creation. We as the audience gather all of this context through dance, I feel the unique strength of this work is the way the performers can tell such a clear story without saying a word.
The most transparent moments of characterization and storytelling often come from the subtle movements of Medea herself, the way her body insists on being in movement at all times. This is a stark contrast to the character of her husband, a sculptor, whose movements are rigid as his passion for sculpting is a manifestation of his desire to freeze people in a perfect image. The way these traits are physicalized through the performers is stunning. While Medea is speaking her hands often seem to be painting or sculpting an image of what she is seeing in the air around her. One of the most beautiful moments in the show is during a monologue from Medea where she is speaking in this way, lost in her thoughts and emotions, and there is a performer physicalizing the emotions coming from Medea through dance. The moment is fleeting but leaves a lasting impact on the audience as it is a brief glimpse into what Medea sees and feels.
We get to witness Medea’s spiral, rage, and ultimate breaking point through the work. Like water or no … more like lava, Medea spills everything she has left inside because for her there is no other way to move forward. From the outside, this story could be seen as one of a man-hating-crazy-woman. Humble Materials shows us that there is so much more to Medea. The performance ebbs and flows through the emotional landscape of a woman who feels trapped by her husband and his desires. This work is a rare look into the psyche of a woman pushed into madness, one that leaves the audience thinking about the ways women are treated in our lives.