Port City Playhouse MedeaBy Bob Ashby • Sep 17th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Port City Playhouse
The Lab at Convergence, Alexandria, VA
Through September 29th
2:05 with one intermission
$18/$16 Seniors, Juniors, Military
Reviewed September 15th, 2012
The center of any production of Euripides’ Medea is necessarily the lead actor. In Port City’s current production (using Robinson Jeffers’ 1947 adaptation), Anissa Parekh gives a fine, multifaceted rendition of the role. Unlike some actors who have played the role, Parekh does not take a single, overarching approach to the character. Rather, she expresses the volatility of a woman under extreme stress who is facing incalculable loss, being by turns despairing, maddened, calculating, proud, infuriated, manipulative, hesitant, briefly tender, coldly violent, and remorseless, ending on a note of fierce joy. Her body, face, and voice vividly convey the intensifying focus of her quest for vengeance. She can rage almost incoherently at the injustice of her being put aside for another woman and exiled, after having sacrificed everything to be with her husband, then be calm and matter-of-fact while questioning the Messenger about the details of her murders of Creon and his daughter.
Parekh’s performance, fortunately, is largely unaffected by the production concept, which is often scattered and distracting. On the playing surface, the main element is an overturned automatic washing machine, complemented by an overturned coffee maker and overturned laundry basket. At the outset of the show, before the first line, the Nurse (Mary Alaya-Bush) and the four chorus women enter wearing 1950s-style dresses and aprons, sit, fidget, and mime drinking from empty coffee mugs, accompanied by an amplified ticking clock sound. If all this is meant to signify the upset of traditional domestic arrangements, it misses the point of the play: Medea is not a Betty Friedan figure.
The most unfortunate use of the chorus occurs in the second half of the play, when the Messenger (Jacqueline Costa-Youm) enters to deliver the news of the horrific deaths of Creon and his daughter. While the Messenger gives her lines on an upstage platform, the four chorus women pose and move on the main playing surface, drawing focus from the person who is at the center of the scene and, in fact, making it difficult for persons in the center seating section to see the Messenger at all.
Among the supporting cast, Michael Crowley is as shallow, conceited, and casually cruel as one could ask of a Jason. His egotism is all the more effective for being relatively soft-spoken. (One of the play’s unanswered questions is what Medea saw in him in the first place.) On the other hand, Mary Alaya-Bush’s nurse is overly declamatory. Cal Whitehurst has an effective cameo as the gullible Aegeus, who Medea manipulates into a promise of asylum in Athens. Terry Gish lacked the commanding presence one would wish for a Creon.
Given the limited technical resources available at The Lab at Convergence, Baron Pugh’s multidirectional lighting design works well. Some moments are played in semi-darkness, which — even if the child of necessity — is suitable for the material of the play. Amanda Jagusiak’s costume design is mixed and at times puzzling. In addition to the 1950s dresses and aprons for the Nurse and chorus, there is business attire for Aegeus and a sort of modified Nehru jacket for Jason. Creon appears in a 1960s-era U.S. Army Class A Green uniform top, with a corporal’s stripes (it’s doubtful that a king would be satisfied to appear in public as a low-ranking enlisted man), and Medea is made to wear an unflattering red dress that is inconsistent with the pride and dignity of a high-born woman like Medea, even as distressed as she is.
Medea is a very human tragedy; unlike many classic Greek plays, gods and heroes play almost no role in its events. Director Rachel Hynes is surely mistaken when she comments that “If Medea were a man, she would be the hero of this story.” Even granted a wide gulf between ancient Greek and modern Western culture, anyone, regardless of gender, who murders four people, including two children, to get revenge on an erring spouse may be many things, but heroic isn’t one of them. Medea, with her overwhelming passions and command of magic, is a force of nature — a force beyond nature, perhaps — but this is a story without a hero.
If Medea were a man, she would be the hero of this story. Imagine it — if Medea were a man with an adulterous wife, we would applaud him for exacting revenge on the spouse that betrayed him. Because she is a woman, what she does is irregular and we call it unbelievable.
Medea continues to enthrall, empower and terrify audiences as they fiercely argue about her actions and intentions. In the production, we see these conflicting arguments through the eyes and words of the Greek chorus who also represent Medea’s internal struggle.
We invite you to join the conversation and the struggle between reason and emotion, insider and outsider, internal and external, male and female, creation and destruction, where nothing is black and white.
- The Nurse: Mary Ayala-Bush
- The Women of Corinth: Rebecca Fischler, Krista Grimett, Casey Leffue, Jenna Zhu
- Medea: Anissa Parekh
- The Tutor: Bryant Centafanti
- The Children: Leonardo Lugli Watkins, Alex Weinstein
- Creon: Terry Gish
- Jason: Michael Crowley
- Aegeus: Cal Whitehurst
- Messenger: Jacqueline Costa-Youm
- Producer: Carol Strachan
- Director: Rachel Hynes
- Stage Manager: Laura Moody
- Assisted by: Charles Dragonette
- Assistant Stage Manager: Zell Murphy
- Assisted by: Donna Reynolds
- Set Design: Baron Pugh
- Master Carpenter: David Correia
- Set Construction: David Correia, Zhuai Haidari, Julia Harrison, Jon Poole, Susie Poole, Andrew Royalty, Doinic Tiberio, Cal Whitehurst
- Lighting Design: Baron Pugh
- Assisted by: Nick Arancibia
- Sound Design: Michelle Matthews
- Sound Board Operators: David Correia, Meg Hoover, Michelle Matthews
- Costume Design: Amanda Jagusiak
- Vocal Coach: Genna Davidson
- Auditions: Jayn Rife, Cal Whitehurst
- Photographer: Andy Simmons
Disclaimer: Port City Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8629.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.