Entering the Center Theatre to see Seattle Shakespeare Company’s brilliant staging of Medea, I anticipated spending an hour or two with a raging madwoman. But director Kelly Kitchens’s production portrays Medea as an everywoman, a standard member of a social fabric. In this 2400 year old Greek tragedy by Euripides, we get a fresh interpretation of a classic story about womanhood and speaking up.
This production of the classic play is not just about a crazy person; it is about every woman’s voice, belonging, and legitimacy. Alexandra Tavares plays Medea primarily as a lover. Having betrayed her father to run away with Jason (Sylvester Foday Kamara), he and her sweet boys are her world and her bliss. When Jason marries the princess Glauce and seeks to move Medea into the role of a kept woman instead of wife, Tavares’s Medea takes in this new information both humbly and fiercely.
Tavares plays Medea as a rich character with interactive layers, levels, and subtle twists of consciousness. She moves from despair to social commentary to rage to a joke, in a span of forty-five seconds. This level of gracious intensity creates high drama, without pretense.
That is what we come to Seattle Shakespeare Company to see, and the energetic SSC audience provides a loyal, enthusiastic fan base. The choice to have ninety minutes of action with no intermission was apt to preserve the dramatic arc, but I did crave a mental rest by ¾ time. The play offers so much rich texture and depth to absorb that the audience is saturated by the end. But the exhaustion also set us up for the tragic resolution of the play.
In the script and particularly in this production, the chorus’s role is amplified from a group of witnesses to a circle of loving women that works with Medea to process the events. Tightly choreographed, dressed in elegant contemporary fashion, and sharing sisterly commentary, the chorus never judges or polices Medea. They are emotionally available ladies in waiting. The original music, composed by Shenandoah Davis, reflects the drama in siren howls, lullabyes and protest anthems. The seamlessly integrated voices of the chorus community still haunt me.
The minor characters’ scenes too blend into the story without missing a beat. From the bold security guards with their wide, intimidating steps around Medea’s house to the despairing childless King Aigeus (Kevin McKeon), all streams flow together into Medea’s river of desperation.
The technical elements are coolly contemporary, with tones of blue, green, light grey, and plenty of white in the costumes, lighting and set. It is almost icy, but so spare that it provides a dignified background for contemporary interpretation of the classic story.
The script is a modern translation, with juicy quips uniquely relevant to our time.
Throughout the play, references to Medea’s family of origin intrigue us, make us question what was so bad that she would betray her own and run away with Jason. Her reflections on dowries and women’s role suggest that she did not come from a feminist utopia. This wily, outspoken woman–a naturally born equal human being and devotee of the gods, was born into an oppressive patriarchy.
She finds power in her priestly devotion to Hecate and finds escape with Jason. But when the “Jason Endeavor” brings her another betrayal, she has nowhere to go but destruction.
When she psychically detaches from what she loves to make a tragic protest statement about how women may and may not be treated, she is the ultimate “Tough Love” lover. Medea cannot and should not hold her tongue. But the patriarchy, represented by King Creon, will not allow her to openly defy the throne.
In a defiant act, a detached and logical Medea enters to commit heinous acts. In her tragic closing scene, Medea lets the consequences of sexism freefall on to her family and society.
Seattle Shakespeare Company.
Center Theatre at Seattle Center
305 Harrison St. Seattle, WA 98109
Wed thru Sat 7:30, Sun 2 pm. Thru Nov. 15. NB Wed Nov 2 sold out, wait-list only; Tickets http://www.seattleshakespeare.org/shows/medea-2016/
Info: www. SeattleShakespeare.org