At just 35 years old, the Australian director Simon Stone is one of the fastest-rising names in international theater, staging searing shows around the world to critical praise that has singled him out as a brilliant talent to watch.
Or, as the actor Bobby Cannavale puts it, “Simon’s hot s–t right now.”
Stone has earned that reputation as a visionary with productions that find fresh, incisively contemporary relevance in classic plays. After garnering raves from New York critics last year with his Olivier-winning version of Yerma, Stone will collaborate with a starry cast led by Cannavale and Rose Byrne on the English-language premiere of Medea, his adaptation of the Greek tragedy about a woman driven to murder her two children.
As with Yerma, Stone’s Medea (playing at BAM January 12 through February 23, 2020) blasts the dust off an old story in what has become the director’s signature style.
“The main obsession that I have with this idea of rewriting classic plays goes to the heart of what theater is as an art form,” explains Stone, speaking from the set of The Dig, the upcoming film he’s directing with a cast that includes Lily James, Ralph Fiennes, and Carey Mulligan.
“When you’re watching theater, you’re part of this long thread through history of other audiences who have watched the same narrative, the same characters, but in different times,” Stone continues. “There are all these superficial ways in which our lives are different now, but at the core of it we’re still living the same myths. We’re still, biologically and spiritually, the same animals we have been throughout history. You end up scratching the surface of this sometimes scary idea that we haven’t changed, and that we haven’t learned from our history. But it can also be reassuring, in that it shows us we’re not alone. History contains a long line of humans like us struggling in the way that we’re struggling.”
There’s nothing remotely stodgy about this Medea, a modern-day retelling that also draws on the true story of Debora Green, the American doctor who made headlines when she killed her children in 1995. “Simon has come up with an approach to the past that finds what’s still alive and meaningful for us,” says David Lan (Yerma, The Inheritance), who is producing Medea with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, where it was staged in Dutch. “You don’t have to look at it through a particular lens, and you don’t need a classical education. It’s about you.”
When Stone rejuvenates a classic like Medea with an eye toward what remains urgently relevant to the audiences of today, “it becomes a kind of investigation into the dark heart of the human capability for such an act,” Stone notes. “These myths are like metaphors for the worst end of a spectrum that we all exist on. They’re a form of catharsis. They’re a way that we, as a social group, can sit in the same room together and look at the demons that haunt us.”
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