La Medea and Lo Stupro are two very confronting and engaging monologues that leave the audience at the end of the evening with a strong sense of catharsis. What we witness is a harrowing account of a rape in Lo Stupro, which serves as a prologue to the longer monologue, La Medea, which turns out to be clever reworking of the classic Greek myth. Director Laurence Strangio and performer Margherita Peluso use the small space of the Courthouse to convey the terror of sexual assault in Lo Stupro and then in La Medea, the suffering of a woman desperate to have her emotional pain acknowledged.
It was a real treat to watch a production written by the late Italian playwright Fanca Rame who passed away last year. Rame, along with her partner, Dario Fo, was a political activist, actress, feminist and Italian senator. From the 1960s until her death, Rame wrote and performed theatre in prisons and schools and other public places. Much of her work centres on feminism. This is raw, historical and feminist theatre performed beautifully by an accomplished actress.
Peluso never looks alone on stage during the hour it takes her to perform the two monologues with very little other staging effects. She sweeps her audience along with her with excellent performance skills and remarkable concentration. She breaks the fourth wall courageously at one point moving right into a row of audience and on many occasion fixes her eyes directly towards audience members as she expands on her suffering as the character of Medea.
Lo Stupro begins in darkness. Out of this darkness a voiceover begins to describe the rape. A dim light shines over Peluso’s body. All we see is her body outstretched over the floor held down by the physical force we come to understand to be three or so men, perpetrators of the heinous crime. Gradually more light falls on Peluso’s body and the account continues. It is very uncomfortable to hear Peluso’s voiceover and watch her re-enact the assault; Peluso’s contorted face and helpless legs and arms convey the unspeakable horror. Rama contended at the time of writing, and we know that even today, the mistreatment and misunderstanding of victims of rape by authorities can still an appalling problem.
Following this Peluso presents La Medea. Rama insists in the program notes that her reworking of the mythical story is to be treated as an allegory. This dreadful, immoral and lawful act of killing ones offspring serves as a way for Medea in her monologue to seek liberation. How can one woman’s painful plight (being rejected by her husband) be depicted and acknowledged? How can the pain manifest itself for all to see and understand? Rama explains, “Our medea is not the drama of jealousy or anger, but of awareness.” The monologue shines a light on the idea of the discarded and the socially oppressed female. Rama’s Medea was no longer prepared to languish in the no man’s land of being the inferior gender, the abused or the ignored. She seeks to be heard. Her slaughtering of her offspring is a symbolic but grotesque cry of attention and quest for acknowledgement. This could be a difficult notion to convey to an audience but Peluso does it with conviction, honesty and passion. Her strong features captivate you. There is the glint of her eyes, her large mop curly brown uncontrolled hair and her high cheekbones rising as she bares an imploring smile.
Another strong feature of this production is that this translation combines English with the original Italian script. Because of this, you are taken back to 1970s Italy and understand that how important Rama’s voice would have been back then.
It is Peluso’s characterization that is captivating; her performance is raw and honest. Strangio’s direction is faultless. He serves the play so well by conveying to the audience this historical feminist play that is relevant, perhaps even more so, for today’s audience in the 21st century.