It was in a darkened theater in the middle of Memorial Day when it happened, suddenly and without warning: mad deja vu. Just as quickly I realized that, no, this was not a figment of my imagination but was in fact the second time this weekend I’d seen a plus-sized, husky-voiced woman remove a red wig while singing an existential lament on stage. Was this a sign — a snippet of visual code layered into the festival by its producers? If so, what was its meaning? And had anyone else noticed it? I scanned the darkened room, eyes peeled for conspirators. Nothing. But you can be sure, I’m now on notice. If it happens again, I’d better win a prize.
The Dickensian Lady Flora’s red wig in The Medium isn’t quite as shocking as Taylor Mac’s, and there’s considerably less glitter on display. But don’t take that as a criticism. There’s a lot on offer at the Dock Street for this umpteenth revival of Menotti’s 1946 opera, a nod to the centenary of the Maestro’s birth this year.
As with Émilie at the Memminger, the set and lighting design here very nearly steal the show out from under the performers (fortunately, The Medium has the benefit of an actual story to support the ample eye candy). Multitasking as both director and set and lighting designer, John Pascoe’s production design is a jewelbox of visual delights — precisely the opposite effect Kneehigh aims for with its concurrent production of Red Shoes.
Where Kneehigh puts the onus on the actors and audience, Pascoe conjures up a visual feast of a room in a war-savaged landscape, all mirrors and rubble and twisted girders. The lighting production for The Medium is especially fine, from subtle diurnal changes to near-cinema-quality spectral visitations. Yet there’s nothing real about The Medium; even the characters in it will tell you ghosts and visitations from beyond the grave don’t exist, that it’s all a trick of the mind. But isn’t that what we’re here for, after all? To be complicit, like Lady Flora’s too-willing patrons, in our own beautiful deception. We’re all Flora’s fools, paying good money to be conned, swindled and bamboozled, and, like them, we want desperately to believe.