Long before there was Lorena Bobbitt or Amy Fisher, the world had Medea. When it comes to pure, unadulterated vengeance, no one can top her, and Euripides' version of her tale is by far the quintessential "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" warning. After all the Fatal Attractions and Basic Instincts of the present day, Medea is still the story that packs the ultimate one-two knockout.
The Jean Cocteau Rep's current production of the classic does not employ extravagant set pieces or costumes to "breath new life" into the timeless story. Nor does it need to, as Eve Adamson uses her deft hand at minimalist direction to draw the audience into the tumultuous world of our title character. The stage is almost completely bare, leaving room for the evening's capable actors to inhabit the space with passion. The set, designed by Robert Klingelhoefer, merely consists of a doorway (leading to Medea's home and used to striking effect in the pivotal murder scene) and a small metal fence which Medea often hangs behind, conjuring images of her captive state. The lighting, designed by Eve Adamson and Harold A. Mulanix, is stark and naked, hanging the players out to dry. One can be sure that these actors have nothing to hide behind.
Luckily, the ensemble here is up to the task handed them. They do a fine job of anchoring the weight of the production, leaving no stone unturned with their straightforward and honest renderings of people torn by love and desire. The chorus (skillfully played by Jennifer Lee Dudek, Angie Moore, and Barbara Wengerd) proves to be particularly effective, as its members do not fall into the trapped interpretation of drones reciting verse. Instead, they provide Medea with real friends who listen to her and give her a shoulder to cry on.
As for Medea, it is no secret how incredibly tough this role can be, especially in light of all the esteemed actresses who have already had their go at this complex character. Elise Stone does a remarkable job at bringing a fresh intensity to the role. Her Medea is a woman of real pain, not merely scorned from heartbreak, but also torn apart by her shattered dream. This tortured woman does not even seem able to comprehend why Jason (Jolie Garrett) would need to look on another woman. She has, after all, provided him with beautiful children and a beautiful home, and has always made him feel like a king. Stone's performance evokes grand sympathy at one turn, then sheer terror at the next, when her anger consumes her. It is these moments of pure schizophrenia that deepen her portrayal, confirming that this is a woman who has completely lost her grasp on the reality she once knew. Bravo to Stone for her brave and uncompromising performance.
The production adds up to a stirring night at the theater, evincing real honesty and pain out of a story that could have been conventionally fed to the audience. Fortunately, Adamson is too smart to settle for that. She knows that in this day and age--with shock-value so prominent in American culture--less is more. Her instincts and restraint work wonders here, treating the audience to an evening of real intensity.
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