The Wreck of the Medusa
It’s a funny coincidence that the Plagiarists’ new work should open on the heels of the Goodman’s A True History of the Johnstown Flood; both plays address the abilities and responsibilities of artists to respond to disaster. Medusa, about the 1816 French shipwreck off the coast of Senegal and the even more harrowing fate faced by passengers and crew members abandoned by officers on a makeshift raft, fares somewhat better than Rebecca Gilman’s play, if only because its chief artist—Théodore Géricault, painter of The Raft of the Medusa—doesn’t show up until midway through the second act. Miller and Peters spend less time on surrogates like Gilman’s fictitious acting troupe and more on the actual victims’ attempts to tell their story.
That’s not to say Medusa is without fault. Interspersed scenes from 19th-century British melodramatist William Moncrieff’s The Fatal Raft!—an object lesson in how artists shouldn’t respond to tragedy—are played too broadly, while Peters’s melodramatic exchanges between ship surgeon Henri Savigny and his betrothed are clunkily earnest; director Tamburri’s blocking veers between static and haphazard, and scene transitions are clumsy. The second act seems to go on and on, with a number of seeming endings turning out not to be and the actual ending feeling like a fizzle. The entire Géricault thread, in fact, feels unnecessary. But the fine ensemble, particularly Kevin V. Smith and Greg Hess as the raft survivors determined to get the truth out, elevates the material, and Anna Glowacki’s nautically stylized costumes and Miller’s video projections set just the right tone for the Plagiarists’ collage.