November 03, 2010

Medea

I have seen every mainstage show at Knox since the Fall of 2003, and the current production of Euripides' Medea is without question among the very, very best of them.

The show opens strong. The set---the enormous, stage-encompassing set---puts us all in the courtyard of a (modern) Corinthian villa, complete with a deck, grass, sandbox, the illusion of a canopy of trees, and fallen autumn leaves strewn about. Whereas just about every "classical" play I can think of takes a scene or two to achieve full immersion---for a variety of reasons that I've written about before---Avery Wigglesworth's narration as the Nurse draws the audience in immediately, and much of her activity (hiding the house's sharp objects) explains itself long before she gets around to telling us about it. Almost without realising it, we get the entire backstory as a prologue without feeling like we've been Talked At.

As the play continues, there are a variety of actors that rotate through, many of them for a single memorable scene as a character they have quite made their own. Notable among these is Noel Sherrard, camping it up and, without ever straying a single step from the text as written, giving us a King Aegeus that few of us would ever have seen in a mere reading of the play. Lines that could have been played straight were given a second (or third!) meaning, and the whole scene injected unexpected levity into some very dark proceedings. Jason (Jack Dryden) has only three scenes, one of them fairly short, but manages to pack a lot in there: at several points we very nearly become sympathetic to what he's done, which is only possible because he convinces us that his actions were not due to an evil nature or even rampant egotism so much as a breathtaking unawareness of the humanity of the female sex. That's kind of tricky, actually, considering all that Jason did, but somehow he pulls it off... which makes the ending vastly more tragic than it might otherwise be.

The interpretation of the chorus was interesting. I believe it was written this way in the translation (a recent one by Robin Robertson), but the chorus doesn't recite any of its lines en chur. Instead, the three women act as a sort of coffee klatsch, sometimes including Medea and sometimes just talking amongst themselves; rather than speaking to the audience, they are an extension of the audience, but since they are women of Corinth, they are an audience for Medea's monologues that situate within the play itself. It was worth keeping an eye on them, particularly Kathleen Donoghue but to some extent all of them, for the meaningful glances they exchanged or the shocked, surprised, or sympathetic reactions they gave to whatever Medea was up to.

And then there's Medea. Nellie Ognacevic has to be all over the map with this character: grief, anger, jealousy, love, happiness, regret, dread, satisfaction (not necessarily in that order). The character herself is a woman of great fortitude and able to set aside certain emotions when she has need to, so at various points Nellie had to play a woman who was deeply grief-stricken, but setting that aside to be devious, but burying that to present as submissive and apologetic. Flawlessly! She turned in a great performance, and it's hard to imagine what the other plays will have to be like to edge her out of this year's Colton prize. There were multiple scenes that---even each by themselves---would have been noteworthy. Her long monologue flaming the crap out of Jason, for starters; it would have fit right in to the best Usenet flamewars, picking at him with scathing remarks and blistering accuracy. Her grand act to convince Jason that she's come around, from the first "Jason" out of her mouth (which drew a laugh, it was so different from Medea's regular speech!) to every time she tells him how submissive she is and how silly women are... and the shadow that crosses her face as she turns away from him to regain composure. Possibly the best scene in the show, where she decides, then un-decides, then decides again that she needs to kill the children: truly chilling. And finally, her "evil for evil, grief for grief" speech, driving home every last tragic little detail of the story.

If you live in Galesburg, or will be in Galesburg sometime this week, or can find some excuse to visit sometime this week, do try to make it to this show. It's worth your time, and it's precisely the sort of thing I'm talking about when I extol the cultural offerings of Galesburg. It's playing through Saturday in Harbach (in CFA on the Knox Campus).

Why major in CS?: "It seems obvious to me that one would have to be an idiot to be employed doing anything other than practicing magic in a world filled with sorcery." --Maxwell Galloway-Carson

Posted by blahedo at 11:58pm on 3 Nov 2010
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