Mosaic / Reviews / Theater / November 4, 2010

‘Medea’ brings suburban slaughter

Following the screams of two children, a truly impressive amount of blood spatters the windows of the two-story suburban house that makes the set of this year’s main stage play, Euripides’ “Medea,” translated by Robin Robertson and directed by visiting Professor of Theatre Jeff Grace. The production is a modern tragicomic reinterpretation of the ancient Greek play written in Athens in the 5th century B.C. Rather than allowing the play to rest on conflicts revolving around hubris, foreigners, insanity and natural law, the Theatre Department offers a different interpretation. The production of “Medea” is a muddled commentary on suburban domestic strife and the mistreatment of women that still manages to be successful on the strength of its acting, set and lighting design.

“I liked it a lot. The acting was great. The set was amazing,” freshman Tyler Buddell said, commenting on the overall quality of the play.

“They did a good job. The performances were fantastic,” Grace said.

Early in “Medea,” the titular character (played with forceful hand-wringing and genuine psychological anguish by junior Nelly Ognacevic) shouts at the chorus, made up of neighborhood women, that she “will kill the children, my children, no one will ever take them from me.” These are not the words of a well-balanced or sane woman. Later on, Medea kills a character by making her simultaneously melt and catch on fire (offstage). The normal laws of physics do not apply to things this woman does.

While Medea is clearly an aberration of nature who repeatedly sets herself against gods and kings (both crimes in the ancient mindset), Grace’s production seeks to paint her as being an ordinary woman who has simply been wronged by her husband, and while Jason certainly does not treat her well, especially by modern standards, nothing that he does justifies the crimes that Medea commits.

The play suffers from the infliction of modern social mores on an ancient text, and Euripides’ message, that people should never betray their families or else it will lead to downfall (Medea’s failure begins with her betrayal of her father), becomes confused behind a screen of social commentary on the cloistering and oppression of women. In fact, the play initially seems to be dealing with the feminist movement in the early 1960s until a Blackberry is produced, clearly setting it in the present day.

Grace spoke about the decision to set the play in the present day, “Every time I kept reading the script, I kept thinking, ‘This woman is a real woman.’”

Additionally, Grace felt that setting the play in the present would make it more accessible to a modern audience, “especially since Euripides in his time was a bit of a modernist.”

Certainly there is nothing wrong with using an old play to comment on modern problems, and in fact this should be strived for. However, it is impossible to ascertain whether or not the play produced is actually the play that Euripides wrote, due to the fact that the script, translated by Robin Robertson, was adapted in ways unspecified in the program, making it impossible to tell if the thematic emphases in the production are relics of translation or choices by the director.

“We did a little bit of adapting just to fit the concept,” Grace said.

Despite some interpretative issues, the production is forceful and engaging, carrying the audience along on the strength of the acting, set design and lighting. Ognacevic received a standing ovation for her powerful portrayal of a woman descending into madness (a descent emphasized by inspired lighting). Junior Jack Dryden’s Jason equally met Ognacevic’s Medea with the potent combination of a schmuck and a man just trying to find his way.

In the end, the play was received enthusiastically by the audience. “I thought it was great. They mixed humor with tragedy, so they kept it lighthearted, then they went right out at the end,” junior Kati Stunkard said.

Despite a relatively short appearance on stage, senior Noel Sherrard’s portrayal of Aegeus made for one of the most memorable, humorous and in many ways poignant moments of the play. Although “Medea” is traditionally seen as a straight tragedy, this particularly production was refreshingly humorous, and quickly strayed into the tragicomic, eliciting many laughs from the audience, much to the surprise of the cast.

Although the production suffers from the interpretative problems that come with manipulating a translation of an ancient play to fit a modern concept, “Medea” as a whole succeeds through a talented cast and artistically inspired lighting and set design as being one of the best main stage productions that the Theatre Department has put on in recent years.

Ben Reeves

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