Courtesy of Charles Swint

“It’s Medea B****,” reads a neon pink sign, glowing against a backdrop of CDs and vines. This elaborate photo spot was created in the hallway entrance of the Mary Gray Munroe Theater, home to Theater Emory’s newest production, “Britney Approximately: A Pop Greek Tragedy.” The sign greets theater-goers with a sassy representation of the eclectic, campy show they are about to enjoy.

Megan Tabaque, a 2021-2023 Emory playwriting fellow and visiting faculty in the creative writing program, wrote and directed this workshop production as a loose adaptation of the story of Medea. In Greek mythology, Medea is a princess who uses her powers of sorcery to aid her lover Jason in his adventures. However, Jason leaves her for another woman, and Medea goes mad with rage. “Britney Approximately: A Pop Greek Tragedy” deftly combines the story of Britney Spears’ recent conservatorship battle with this ancient myth, specifically the version written for the stage by Euripides in the fourth century B.C.

For Tabaque, the isolation and loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic translated directly to the lack of control Spears had over her own life under her conservatorship. Tabaque was astonished to watch Spears, someone who she said “looms large in our kind of collective cultural psyche,” beg a California judge for basic personal autonomy. Tabaque wanted to explore the idea of the weight Spears has carried for decades: the weight of being a “pop princess,” of becoming a mother and of proving her sanity.

“It started coming out in this very bombastic, kind of lyrical mode, and it felt very Greek to me. And then I just [was] like okay, this is it,” Tabaque said.

She connected the press framing Spears as a bad mother with the story of Medea, the mythical character whom Tabaque thought of as “the most famous kind of bad mother.”

“It’s like if Britney Spears and Euripides kind of were in a studio all night making their own album, maybe they would make this play,” Tabaque said.

The result is a 90-minute, freely-spinning explosion of drama that creatively combines the stories of Spears and Medea, two desperate, defiant and larger-than-life women.

“Britney Approximately: A Pop Greek Tragedy” transports its audience into a parallel universe: one in which the emotions are poignantly ancient, the metaphors are extravagant and Spears stans wail, Greek-chorus-style, while wielding glittery protest signs and Starbucks drinks. In this universe, a golden crown, which four actresses transfer between themselves throughout the show, symbolizes Spears’ identity. Towards the climax of the story, one of these actresses takes the crown while derisively asking whether it is heavy, to which the previous Britney responds, “You have no idea.”

Indeed, it is a heavy burden to be Spears. She is described throughout the play as a “sorceress,” a “god,” a “princess” and a “perfect daughter.” Her stardom holds her to impossible standards, along with the limits that her conservator father — here represented as Creon — sets on her life. Creon boasts that he has “a crown, and it is heavy,” but there is a cruel irony in the fact that any power he holds is derived from the glory of his daughter’s success. Spears is well aware of this irony, defiantly telling Creon, “there is no justice in you waving my own money at me.” Like our real-life Spears, this one is well aware of the injustice that she lives under.

And like the mythical Medea, Spears begins to crack under the pressure. She declares she is being “pushed to the brink,” and as her patience wears thin, so do the rules of this reality. In one trippy scene, Spears suddenly gains control of her father’s every movement. She commands him to kneel and stick out his tongue as if they were playing Simon Says, only to later lose control again when her sons cajole her into returning to a mental health facility. Spear’s desperation, well-acted by each successive actress to play her, lends her sympathy from the audience as she begins to turn to Medea-style violence.

“Poisonous,” one of several original songs written for this production, sums up Spear’s constant battle for power. “Poison me, I’ll poison you,” she warns, singing into a sparkly pink microphone and stalking back and forth across the stage.

The set itself plays a fantastic part in casting the story of Spears in a classical light. A stone-looking wall with open archways allows for characters to smoothly enter and exit, while an upper balcony lends depth to the scene.

Die-hard Spears fans will notice the costuming’s many nods to her iconic looks, most notably the glimmering pink top and white pants she wore on her 1999 “Baby One More Time” tour, as well as her red catsuit from the 2009 “Oops!… I Did It Again” music video. It is details like these, as well as the melodramatic performances of the cast, that have forged the theatrical heart of “Britney Approximately: A Pop Greek Tragedy.”

“It’s got to feel wacky; you’ve got to feel wild,” Tabaque explained to the cast during their final dress rehearsal. The wildness of the humor, dance moves and loud yelling matches help build up a passionate fervor that perfectly evokes Spears’ and Medea’s inner turmoil.

Tabaque said she hopes her play will inspire audience members to consider the humanity of celebrities instead of simply treating them “like gods.” She wrote a play in which this ultimate celebrity, Spears, mourns that she wasn’t warned of “the grotesqueries of motherhood.” Spears rages against the expectations that have been placed on her, and she longs to escape her loneliness. This theatrical interpretation of Spears simply wants to push her sons on swings, throw pennies in fountains and order blizzards at Dairy Queen. While “Britney Approximately: A Pop Greek Tragedy” retells Spears’ story as “its own sort of myth,” the play also lends a great deal of humanity to the pop star, causing us to reconsider how we treat womanhood both in our stories and in our lives.

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Brigid May is from Holly Springs, North Carolina, double majoring in harp performance and classics/English. Outside of the Wheel, they perform with the Emory University Symphony Orchestra and serve on the Emory Musician's Network executive board. They are a lover of poetry, handmade jewelry, and tarot readings.