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MEDUSA UNDONE carefully presents Medusa’s “origin story” as a victim of sexual assault

THE BASICS:  MEDUSA UNDONE, the WNY premiere of a new play by Bella Poynton, presented by Post-Industrial Productions, directed by Maura Nolan Coseglia, starring Diane DiBernardo, Paige Allison Donitelli, Becky Globus, Brett Klaczyk, and Anna Krempholtz runs through February 2, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at the New Phoenix Theatre on the Park, 95 Johnson Park. Beer, wine, soda. Tickets. Not appropriate for patrons under the age of 16.

Runtime: about 2 hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Before she was one of the scariest mythical monsters of all time (snakes in her hair, turning men to stone with a glance) apparently Medusa was just a kind, beautiful young sea-nymph who yearned for something better (think Ariel), escaping a rather restrictive and unpleasant home life (think Cinderella) who ran afoul of two very powerful gods. A little devious and mischievous, she decides to turn her life around and devote herself to the service of the goddess Athena as a virgin priestess. For two years she rises higher in the order, ultimately becoming high priestess, all the while being charmed by Poseidon, god of the sea, who, ultimately bored with what she sees as friendship but he sees as flirtation, decides to wield his considerable power and rape her. As is standard for Greek drama, the violent rape is committed off stage, but the after effects are very much front and center. The production company’s press release states: “MEDUSA UNDONE explores the social problem of rape culture, our tendency to victim blame, and the great injustice suffered by female victims of abuse of all kinds.” This is a Greek tragedy, not a town hall forum, so I wouldn’t say “explores” so much as “presents” these issues in very dramatic fashion leaving any exploration (consideration/study/evaluation) to the individual audience member.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This is a great season for Buffalo theaters across the board. So far, every company has come back from the holidays rarin’ to go, from the high energy hijinx of SPAMALOT at the Kavinoky to MEDUSA UNDONE by a new company in town calling itself “Post Industrial Productions” whose initial offering is a bit of a rarity in Buffalo, a professional theater company presentation of a very disturbing topic. To be fair, companies have to build large paying audiences to survive, and despite watching pretty grisly series on cable channels and Netflix, it would seem that most audiences want to be entertained more and “woke” less.

This is a great season for Buffalo theaters across the board.

Also, to be fair, several companies have put on some hard hitting shows recently. Irish Classical presented SIVE (young girl about to be sold into an arranged marriage), Road Less Traveled presented THE CHRISTIANS (megachurch pastor has a crisis of conscience), THE NETHER (child prostitution in Virtual Reality) and DISGRACED (Muslim lawyer suffers misunderstanding). But usually the more disturbing plays have a budget element to them and have a more experimental theater or “black box” vibe. Two of the best companies in that vein are the Brazen Faced Varlets (‘NIGHT MOTHER and THE HANDKERCHIEF come to mind) and pretty much anything that Subversive Theatre puts on over at their Manny Fried Theater.

But, I find it interesting that, over the past year, several companies that have put on plays as “in your face” as MEDUSA UNDONE have been student productions. Two started at Buffalo State and moved to the Paul Robeson Theatre: FREE FRED BROWN (young black man vs. “the system”) and Dominique Morriseau’s BLOOD AT THE ROOT (young black students unjustly accused). Similarly, LIT 401: A SCHOOL SHOOTING IN ONE ACT depended heavily on the UB Theater School and SLUT featured Kelly Beuth’s students from the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (part of Subversive Theater’s “Subversive Youth Series”). MEDUSA UNDONE is not a student production, but I can certainly see it becoming a favorite on college campuses (contemporary topic but few technical requirements and a small cast of five) although probably not high schools.

MEDUSA UNDONE is not a student production, but I can certainly see it becoming a favorite on college campuses… although probably not high schools.

In fact, Artistic Director Bob Van Valin writes: “Our mission is to produce theatrical performances that attract younger patrons to the theatre by making work that educates about and encourages discussion of important social issues affecting the lives of young people.”

What makes the current production of MEDUSA UNDONE over at The New Phoenix Theatre special is that the total package –  the direction, the acting, the costumes, the set, the soundscape – are all very well balanced and present as professional. There’s nothing “student” about it.

The author, Bella Poynton, is back in Buffalo with an MFA from The Iowa Playwrights Workshop currently working on her Ph. D. from SUNY Buffalo. She was inspired by several events including U.S. Representative Ted Akin declaring that rape victims would not get pregnant because “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

The director, Maura Nolan Coseglia, brought forth very well-rehearsed, very consistent and believable performances by all of her actors.

Anna Krempholtz plays Medusa with great energy and physicality and it was no surprise to read that she is “a certified Basic Actor-Combatant with Fight Directors Canada.”

Paige Allison Donatelli plays Athena with obvious joy and gusto. It’s fun to play a bitch, but to also be a goddess? Wow. Plum role and Ms. Donatelli relishes every moment.

Diane DiBernardo is the cool, calm center – the eye of the hurricane – both in her character’s role but also in the gravitas she brings to any production.

Becky Globus brings a slight comedic element (hey, you need a little bit of that) as Medusa’s sister Stheno.

And Brett Klaczyk who has also done fight choreography, moves about the stage like a Greco-Roman wrestler, always ready to spring, menacing despite the grin and the charm.

The stage, simple, but effective, is dominated by a grey stone slab fountain, which we hear dripping constantly. Very effective (Set Design Josh Robinson, Ashlyn Zgoda and Sound Design Bob Van Valin). Another nice symbiosis is the lighting (Chris Cavanaugh) and the costumes (Andrea Gollhardt) particularly when the actor steps up to a small spot light which projects her silhouette on the backdrop like a figurine on a Greek vase.

All in all, this is a fine production and one can only hope that word of mouth will build audiences before it closes on February 2nd.

Photo: Diane DiBernardo (L) as Echo and Anna Krempholtz as Medusa in MEDUSA UNDONE. (Photo courtesy Tim Coseglia)

UP NEXT: AFTER THE FALL by Arthur Miller. March 14 to April 6 in collaboration with Subversive Theatre Collective. Artistic Director Bob Van Valin writes: “Forefront to the action of the play is Miller’s lasting guilt that he was responsible for the failure of his marriage with Marilyn Monroe and her untimely death.”

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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