Minnesota Fringe Festival: Medea

CAVEAT: I again toured a show to the Kansas City Fringe Festival, affording me a unique opportunity to review some shows coming to the Minnesota Fringe in earlier stages of development – with the reminder that live theatre changes from performance to performance, and shows may undergo significant alteration from Fringe to Fringe.

PRODUCER: Amber Bastards
SHOW DESCRIPTION: How do you cope with betrayal? How do you avenge yourself when you lose the life you sacrificed everything for? This adaption of Euripides’ Medea breaths new life into the tragedy of the woman from Colchis.


Greek tragedy in
which feminism is all
the rage: sorry, kid.

“Why Medea?”

I hosted a late-night show at the Kansas City Fringe, and these are among the first words I blurted out when the director of this show was on. I see a lot of theatre, and in the past few years I’ve seen a surprising number of takes on this story — on either Euripides’ script or on the core legend itself (I reviewed one such production not too long ago, in which I laid out many of my underlying neuroses with the tale, so I’ll just link to it here and not clutter up this particular review by reiterating them.)

The gender politics seem to be the obvious hook, but I’ve found that productions that seize on that — that try to layer over 2000 years of feminist theory onto the script — cause the script to collapse. It can’t contain them. So it’s to this company’s credit that they don’t seem to be trying to do that: they seem more interested in the theatricality, in the character drama; in exploring a theme, rather than relaying a message.

Greek tragedy poses a lot of challenges to a modern audience, and it strikes me that for a director it combines the challenges of both creating an ensemble show with creating a solo show. I found the ensemble half of the show — the choral work — to be uniformly excellent: the voices are well-balanced, sliding elegantly between each other, slipping between characters and observers seamlessly. They’re tossed into modern dress without drawing attention to the fact. (I want to give a particular shout-out to the actor portraying Jason: the temptation is to make him into a cackling villain, but he chooses to play him with a humane exasperation that is, by far, the more interesting choice.)

The other half of the show is composed of dramatic monologues by Medea herself. I want to make two things very clear:

1) this character, and these monologues, are an extraordinary challenge for even the most seasoned actress; and
2) this actress is excellent in many respects, particularly in her vocal control. She finds the changes in attitude and rhythm, can shout, can whisper, and can shift between the two almost musically, which is critically important — since these scripts are as much about aural as narrative pleasure.

I want to articulate those points so that I can be clear when I say that her performance didn’t wholly work for me. I haven’t yet seen a performance of the character that has, so it’s an open and worthy question whether the problem lies in the script or in my response to it.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the character has to strike a careful balance between vitriol and vulnerability — and the latter is particularly important, because it informs the former. Without, she becomes the cackling villain, and I don’t think the play works on those terms. I’ve played my share of monsters and madmen over the years, and know the cathartic pleasure that generates from an audience — and the actress’ pleasure is visible, diving into the character’s menace with enthusiasm. But Euripides, more than any of the other ancient Greek tragedians, strikes me as the one with the greatest interest in subtle psychological touches — touches that I’m afraid I missed.

Perhaps I was overly aggressive in my interview — I noticed the cast pulling back, and another artist laughingly described me as a “pit bull” — but as I attempted to state in apology at the time: I’m asking because I think the questions are interesting. And the fact that the questions are interesting is precisely what makes this show worth seeing.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!


One Response to “Minnesota Fringe Festival: Medea”

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