Refracting and reflecting a mirage

Jason and Medea

By Dennis Moritz
Directed by Michael Leland
Theatre Double
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

Ah, Medea ... Misunderstood foreigner, early radical feminist, mythical bitch, evil child-killer, or modern woman? Endlessly rewritten, re-adapted, reexamined, reconceived. Why this endless urge to recreate Medea? To retell an old story in new words? To make Medea modern? Or to prove her timeless?

Dennis Moritz's adaptation attempts to do all of these things, and more. To translate Sophocles's poetry into modern poetry. To translate it into clear vernacular prose. To give a '90s interpretation of Medea. To prove her modernity through anachronistic language ... In short, it attempts to do far too much, ultimately jumping from style to style, and from perspective to perspective, without reconciling them into a unified piece of theater.

In the more poetic moments, Moritz capitalizes well on rhythm and repetition, weaving words together in waves, echoing and re-echoing themes and phrases. Unfortunately, he shifts periodically into unimpressive, plain prose that is sometimes natural and effective, sometimes forced and anachronistic, relying on overly modern cliches. Thus Jason the businessman tells Medea ``You hold me back,'' but ``I'll always have a warm spot for you,'' and refers (more than once) to their children as his ``jizm splash.'' Ultimately, rather than either working together or actively commenting on each other, these disparate elements undermine the play, frustrating any sense of coherence.

The performances, as a whole, were quite good. Shelita Birchett's Medea was powerful. She was at her best when being manipulative, and never quite able to be pinned down. Redman Maxfield's Creon was a delightful aging queen of a ruler, his fey ineffectiveness nicely contrasting Medea's power. Christopher Kendra's Jason, however, was a one-level shit.

The production was helped by Shelita Birchett and Frances M. Mammana's generally excellent costume design, which evoked a colorful, exotic world for the principals and the female chorus (Marianne Ryan, Jacqueline Sydney, Erin Smith, Anne Delano, and Janice Hughes). The male chorus (Steve O'Brien, Bart Goodell, and Frank Serafin) was less fortunate, the guards outfitted in small strips of too-clean white cloth that left their (admittedly divine) bodies exposed, and led them to look like a cross between Greek statues and modern underwear billboards.

Despite its flaws, the production reached one moment of brilliance. Medea, having plotted the death of Jason's new wife (Erin Smith) has created a poisoned gown, an exquisite, glittering creation of white silk and shards of mirrors. The gown was dangerously radiant as it shot beams of light back into the audience's eyes. The actual death was signaled by a blood-curdling off-stage scream, and a messenger entered to tell Medea the story. In the finest performance of the evening, full of hatred for Medea, the messenger, Tracy Lynne Kindell, physically similar and costumed almost identically to Medea, became Medea's double. The image of Medea became refracted into teller and listener, as if Medea looked, smiling, into a mirror that condemned her. Moritz's language and Michael Leland's direction were at their finest in this monologue -- effectively blending the prose and poetry, the modern and the classical here as nowhere else in the script, and providing a startling and powerful visual metaphor for the uncategorizable, endlessly reinterpretable nature of Medea.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson

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