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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 29, 2003 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Medea’
Be sensible," Jason implores the disconsolate Medea,
the wife he has scorned, betrayed, and humiliated. Not very likely
to happen in Euripides’ fierce and speedy 90-minute drama. Stunningly
acted by Fiona Shaw as the revenge-driven Medea, and excitingly staged
by Deborah Warner for the Ireland’s Abbey Theater, "Medea"
is the dramatic tour de force of the season. Now on Broadway for a
limited run after a brief and hugely successful engagement at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music, this sensational modern-day production
has a lot going for it even as it poses some questionable conceits.
Although sunglasses initially cover Shaw’s eyes and her agitated body
parts are held captive by a frumpy housedress, we know from the outset
that this is the mythic woman who is destined to initiate a torrent
of heartbreak and horror. Within set designer Tom Pye’s impressive
brick-and-glass contemporary setting that features a large rectangular
swimming pool (the device du jour?), there is a decided chill in the
air as Medea enters and begins her torturous tirade. Only the toy
boats that float peacefully upon the still water fail to respond with
It is hard not to think briefly about the use and the symbolism of
the water in the hate-propelled "Medea," in as much as the
same element is given prominence and auspicious significance in the
current production of "Metamorphoses," wherein transgression
is transformed by love. And when at the end of the play Medea sits
beside the pool and casually flicks bloodied water at Jason’s corpse,
we understand Warner’s explicitly feminist perspective. Of course,
there is no reason to suspect that Warner considered such reversible
irony, but that she simply embraced the modernity of such things,
thereby emphasizing how Euripides’ play continues to resonate in every
The famous and familiar preface to the action, where Medea, having
helped her lover Jason obtain the golden fleece, bears him two sons
and flees with him back to his home in Greece, sets the stage for
the catastrophic events recounted in this play. Jason, as excellently
portrayed by Jonathan Cake, is a handsome, virile, but self-serving
man, with no qualms about deserting his faithful Medea and marrying
the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth.
But this is a production that is all about Shaw’s bravura performance,
a veritable torrent of corrosive words and agitated movement. A second
visit to "Medea" made me realize to what lengths Shaw has
gone to match virtually every feeling with a corresponding gesture,
not to appear mechanical, but to cement her surface emotions to every
fiber in her body. To her credit, Shaw also manages to find an amazing
amount of humor in her angst and anguish, even to the extent of firing
off a toy gun. Even if you know what’s coming, the murder of the children,
is vividly intensified by David Meschter’s sound effects. A woman
sitting near me was unable to control her own scream and sobbing.
Shaw is not merely following in the footsteps of such
renowned Medeas as Diana Rigg, Zoe Caldwell, and Dame Judith Anderson.
In her ranting and raving around the home from which she is being
unfairly evicted, Shaw creates her own more resolutely individual
and more captious interpretation. Warner’s staging of the Kenneth
McLeish and Frederic Raphael translation has virtually no stake in
traditional Greek drama. The chorus is now a compassionate group of
friends with thickly Irish-English accents. If there are now gaps
of credibility in Medea’s use of magic within this non-mythic environment,
we are forced to suspend our disbelief in light of Shaw’s ability
to appear as one possessed with powers that no mortal has ever previously
known. All said and done, for drama lovers, this play is a must. HHH
— Simon Saltzman
York, 212-307-4100. $60 to $80. Runs to February 22.
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