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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 29, 2003 edition of U.S.

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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

a shudder.

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

age.

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

Medea, Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47 Street, New

York, 212-307-4100. $60 to $80. Runs to February 22.


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