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Reviewing Medusa

“Raising teens is more tricks than treats,” the Greek chorus chants in the new Riverside Theatre production “Raising Medusa,” written by local poet and playwright Barbara Lau of Mt. Vernon.

The production features a stellar cast with palpable chemistry. Stage and screen actress Nancy Youngblut plays the mother in the play, exasperated with her 13-year-old daughter’s (Maddie, played by Cornell College student Laura Tatar) radical changes into teen-hood. As she sees her “little princess” transformation to a moody, independent young woman the mother battles her own vices with the help of the Greek chorus, who give advice and words of wisdom to keep the mother’s anxiety at ease.

Tatar and Youngblut’s performance is exceptional. Curse words fly across the stage and the arguments and tension felt between the mother and daughter are just as real and uncomfortable for the audience. For Tatar’s first stage performance, she did a remarkable job and is well on her way to headlining more plays, community theatre or otherwise. Youngblut’s desperation with Maddie and spot-on sarcasm with the Greek chorus (played perfectly with quick-wit and empathy by Kristy Hartsgrove, Jaclyn June Johnson and Riverside Theater artistic director Jody Hovland) make the audience laugh out loud and sometimes tear-up. It’s clear to see Youngblut brings her feelings as a real-life mother to the stage as Maddie’s mom.

Raising MedusaAnd Medusa herself even has a few quips, despite her tragic transformation. Hartsgrove plays the ailing Greek beauty, and Hovland as her mother. Johnson appears off and on as Vanessa or “Ven,” as she’s referred to by Maddie – the new girl in town with a punk-rock attitude, an illegal tattoo and piercings with a very New York accent. Ven’s presence in Maddie’s life has a lot to do with the changes she makes going from a dirty-blonde middle schooler reading “Chronicles of Narnia” to a dirty-mouthed, jet-black hair, fire engine red lipstick mini-20-something.

The stage is set for a majority of play – scene-switching is unnecessary for the most part – and alternates between the mother’s desk, Maddie’s colorful but messy room, the living room where the mother flips through photo albums of her little girl and a family counseling waiting room where the mother seeks help for her seemingly out-of-control teen. The Greek muses fill in from time to time as other roles, all of them appearing as other irritated and heartbroken mothers in the waiting room.

A few words of advice: Read up a little on your Greek literature in history, as the Greek muses in the play refer to many famous Greek characters, not just Medusa. It helps to have some knowledge for reference when they relate Maddie and her mother to the classic works of Homer and Aristotle.

On your way in and out of the theater, take a gander at the works of art created by local Mt. Vernon high schoolers on their perception of Medusa and their own child-to-teen transformation. Lau’s dedicated work in the school and her investigative research with mothers and family counselors definitely adds to the realism  of the production. For its small cast, creative directors and sound crew (eerie snippets of Maddie’s childhood are played over the speakers on a dark stage, as we hear hide-and-go-seek and “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” representing the mother’s little girl lost) make this play well worth the trip, and it runs until April 19. At only $12 or $24 per ticket, “Raising Medusa” is a great learning lesson for the whole family – parents and grandparents alike. The intimate setting of Riverside’s shallow theater and minimal seating makes a production like this more entertaining and enjoyable than any rented DVD or movie theater.

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