Launch Pad Preview

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 17, 2022
Purgatory and resolution are found in Medusa’s beauty shop (photo by Jeff Liang)

“I’m a survivor of childhood sexual assault,” Candrice Jones said plainly when asked about the origin of her latest play, A Medusa Thread, which is getting its first-ever production this week via the inspired theatrical incubator known as UCSB’s Launch Pad. Placing Medusa, the mythological Gorgon with snakes instead of hair, as the owner of a Black beauty salon in the American South that serves as purgatory for the recently deceased. The drama is Jones’ method of addressing that abuse, but from her perspective of an adult, and with a couple of other plays already under her belt. 

“I always knew I wanted to address what happened,” Jones explained. “But I didn’t want to write a play that staged the act of sexual assault, nor did I want it to be the survivor enacting a revenge narrative. That’s not my story.” The framework came while the Arkansas native was studying theater at CalArts in Southern California and was introduced to the post-modern interpretation of mythology as an entryway. “I started thinking about who owns stories, and my connections to characters in literature borne from my experience, and Medusa was one whose rage came from sexual assault. All those stories involve some kind of transformation, some kind of catharsis.” 

But the beauty shop, called Cathartic Moments in the play, wasn’t just a convenient place to set the story, it also represents a pivotal moment in Jones’ own recovery, she said. “The beauty shop was the first place that I had the experience of having some kind of agency with my body, in how someone could touch me or what they could do,” she recalled, fully aware of the irony of talking about the subject, just days after the draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked. “My mom told her what to do with my hair, but the beautician turned to me and said, ‘OK. But what do you want?’ It was an acknowledgment that I might have some ideas about how I wanted to present myself to the world.”

So “visitors” to Cathartic Moments in A Medusa Thread are made aware that their consent is valued from the time that they walk into the shop, even though the place represents purgatory’s requirements for resolution, which comes from processing trauma from previous sexual assault to be able to cross over into the afterlife, Jones said. 

The fictional drama comes from the conflict between the play’s protagonist, named Essence Worthy, who was studying to be a hair stylist before she perished in a car crash, and antagonist Medusa, who has taken thousands of previous clients through purgatory but now feels threatened by Essence’s expressed desire to stick around for a while and maybe take over the shop. 

Six Black actors – including a few who aren’t theater majors at UCSB – comprise the cast for the Launch Pad preview production directed by Shirley Jo Finney, the award-winning international director of theater, TV, and film who is currently on UCSB’s faculty. They’ll be enacting Jones’ work that reframes the stories of heroic gods and men in mythology to illuminate their cruelty and violence, thereby creating pathways for escaping cycles of abuse. But her own healing isn’t why Jones wrote the play, she said. “Sure, every time I share my story with individuals who have gone through the same thing, it’s part of a healing. There is some kind of release, an acknowledgement of pain and growth. But I wouldn’t have begun writing it if I didn’t already feel some sense of being healed. [Rather] the call to action here is for individuals to explore ways in which consent is given and/or taken away, not just with sexual assault, but with any situation.” 

A Medusa Thread performs May 16-25 at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater. Visit


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