Three men in formalwear stand in a line carrying a wooden box wrapped with rope. On the right, a woman in a white dress is visible behind a sheet of plastic.
Medea Material at Trap Door Theatre Credit: J. Michael Griggs

A wooden rowboat and plastic sheets lining two back walls are the only decorations for Sarah Tolan-Mee’s English-language adaptation of Heiner Müller’s 1982 cry-of-anguish riff on war, betrayal, and the messiness of identity. Using the Greek legends of Medea and Jason as a jumping-off point, this is a raging, poetic rant against tyranny and fate rather than any kind of coherent narrative. But I don’t mean that as a criticism. There was no way to deliver the inchoate rage so palpable throughout this brisk 70-minute piece in anything like a three-act structure. Instead, a half-dozen Medeas and several Jasons take turns reciting, dancing, and ritually enacting acts which will be familiar to theatergoers from the dawn of time. Departures, arrivals, violence, and couplings each get evoked repeatedly, with every performer adding their own wrinkle to what—in less capable or adventurous hands—might have been shopworn gestures.

Medea Material
Through 7/2: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 7 PM; Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland,, $25 (2 for 1 Thu).

This is a difficult play to write about because its effect is a mood or vibe rather than anything verbal. I wish I could just tell you to go and let it engulf you with no forethought, warning, or explanation. It does the thing art’s supposed to do—it shows rather than tells. Through the barest of means Trap Door manages to summon a massive, elemental vision. Just as the nine cast members seamlessly slide in and out of identities, foreground, and background, so that wooden boat serves variously as refuge, coffin, and shrine; the plastic sheets are sometimes water, other times a barrier between this world and other worlds. Under Max Truax’s able direction, this group of actors makes often complicated feelings utterly palpable. I don’t know how they did that and don’t want to ask, but I’m grateful to them for working their dark magic.