At Halloween, we let evil spirits run free and amuse ourselves with their wickedness. It’s a way of reminding us of their power and horror and, with a wink, containing them within a seasonal and temporal frame.
The Provincetown Theater is celebrating that season in a stark and incisive way with Another Medea, a one-man show written and directed by Aaron Mark. It features Broadway star Tom Hewitt, who made mincemeat of audiences and fellow performers a few summers back as the demon barber Sweeney Todd, in Another Medea, a one-man show written and directed by Aaron Mark. It will have its second and final weekend there from Oct. 27 to 29.
Such an offering carries with it a lot of expectations. First, there is Hewitt, with his dark charisma, suave baritone, and theater chops. And then there is the ancient Euripides’s Medea, based on the myth about Jacob’s wife, who kills her husband’s new lover and her own children as an act of vengeance, despair, and (some would say) feminist empowerment. She then leaves town and starts a new life, without suffering any official punishment.
Mark has given the story a modern and queer update. He was inspired, he has said, by Charles Ludlam’s drag production of Medea, performed by the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York’s Greenwich Village. He developed it with Hewitt in 2013, and it was first performed at the Duplex, a gay cabaret a few steps away from the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street.
In Mark’s play, Hewitt plays himself, as an actor, who visits convicted killer Marcus Sharp in prison to hear his story. Hewitt also plays Sharp, and all the lesser characters in Sharp’s gruesome tale. He shifts between characters with dazzling precision.
Before his arrest, Sharp was a New York theater actor, about to turn 40, whose career was failing. He meets a wealthy doctor, a British expat named Jacob, and falls in love. He then drops his career and plunges into the role of selfless partner to Jacob. He becomes the sperm donor to twin daughters birthed by Jacob’s sister (and thus sharing in Jacob’s DNA). Sharp becomes a mere nanny — a biological father with no rights.
The rest, as they say, is history — especially the history of the play Medea. Sharp is replaced in Jacob’s affections by a cuter, younger man. Then, ever the resourceful actor, he researches Medea as a play and the Euripides character through the centuries. Guided by meta-self-consciousness, Sharp makes the scorned wife’s tragic story his own real-life personal crusade. In short, he acts it out, and the result is appalling and chilling, no matter how prepared you are for the inevitable.
Entering the Provincetown Theater’s auditorium, one is confronted by a big, blank, black space, with a folding table and chair at its center. Hewitt enters nervously, as himself, and, sitting down, he explains the process of how he got to visit Sharp. Then he transforms into his subject, eerily and instantaneously. He gives us an alluring pathway to empathize with Sharp, in all his apparent honesty. But even in a queer update, the grisly nature of the crimes Sharp commits doesn’t make it easy. This is not a play for everyone, especially children.
Mark, as author and director, does a remarkably sophisticated job of adapting Euripides to a 21st-century gay male milieu. Sharp is not the societal equivalent of Medea, a matron in ancient Greece with few if any rights. As an unmarried gay partner in present-day Manhattan, Sharp’s powerlessness is largely due to his own misguided decisions. But his rage at being left destitute and alone is nonetheless comprehensible.
Mark is as much a truth-teller as Sharp is. He offers us a window into the art and power of storytelling — how we create stories and how they affect us in kind. Stories of passion and revenge such as Medea’s, or one of multiple murders such as Sharp’s. Hewitt’s obsession with Sharp, as one actor to another, is much like our curiosity as an audience to this display of horror. We crave it, fear it, and are repelled by it.
Thanks to Mark and Hewitt and the sober minimalism of production manager Ellen Rousseau’s bare stage, Another Medea is anything but a thrill ride with screams and skeletons. It’s as much a master class in acting as a theatrical journey into the haunting nature of madness and evil. Artistic director David Drake and the Provincetown Theater present, just in time for the holidays, a play that resonates deeply.