There’s something strange – and profoundly disturbing – about watching someone grapple with their inner demons. As audience members we can’t help but peer into the darkest corners of our own minds, terrified of what we might find there. If we’re not careful we may stumble across some unspeakable doubt, some cruelty meant to be unimaginable. For isn’t the scariest, most unsettling fiction the kind that doesn’t feel fictional at all?
Aaron Mark, the writer and director of Another Medea, is speaking the unspeakable and imagining the unimaginable at the Cherry Lane Theatre as part of the third annual All For One Theater Festival. With its series of performances and workshops throughout the fall, AFO is a non-profit committed to advancing and celebrating the art of solo performance. Aaron Mark’s terrifically terrifying show, performed by the astonishing Tom Hewitt, can be seen between now and October 30.
In the midst of today’s cultural preoccupation with the antihero figure, Another Medea feels like a typical example of an emotionally tortured man transformed, by a combination of consequence and questionable choices, into a monster. But whereas today’s post-Sopranos era of epic television invites us to sympathize with various devils, Mark’s creation compels us, through sheer dramatic force, to empathize with its own. That distinction seems impossible to pull off, considering this story is inspired by the bloody acts of Euripedes’ timeless femme fatale. But empathy is what makes Another Medea such a staggering achievement.
The devil here is a former New York actor named Marcus Sharp. By way of a nameless narrator, we learn Marcus resides in maximum security prison. He proceeds to give an interview of sorts about the events leading up to his imprisonment, his devotion to a man named Jason, and his growing, ominous obsession with the tale of Medea.
By acknowledging only that Marcus did something abominable, but waiting ever so patiently to build towards the act itself, the suspense means agony for the audience. Part of the brilliance of this play is its structure; the promise of horrors to come means we are forever on the edge of their seats. By the time we finally get to the crimes, it’s almost a release to learn the grisly details.
But the reason Marcus makes such a deep, disconcerting impression is his perfectly mundane flaws. This is a man we understand, a struggling actor type with everyday problems who is swept off his feet, with all the joy and complications that entails. Other than the fact that he’s a criminal in maximum security prison, Marcus seems unnervingly normal.
It helps that his story is delivered with such convincing rage – but more importantly, convincing sanity – by Tom Hewitt. Like any masterful solo performer, Hewitt can flip between characters on a dime; he relies largely on sharp vocal distinctions, as almost the entire performance is seated. What makes his voice so arresting isn’t his menacing lower registers, it’s the off-handed delivery of the most rational, banal, even charming thoughts.
His pace is brisk; sudden pauses fill the room with a deafening silence. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Marcus’ breathtaking speech about statistical filicide. The real-life examples feel so chillingly believable, an in-yer-face assertion that such violence can happen anywhere, anytime. It’s one of many moments that helps connect the dots between Marcus Sharp the charismatic actor and Marcus Sharp the cold-blooded killer.
As the play’s title points out (and at one point, Marcus does too), Euripides’ tale has been translated and adapted countless times across the centuries. Aaron Mark seems to ask the question, why? Why are we perpetually fascinated by such raw, gruesome ugliness? Marcus Sharp, in all his terrifying normality, is a result of that inquiry. After meeting him, you may be in need of a nice hug and some milk and cookies.
By Jack Smart