Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Music elevates this sleek production of "Medea" even more

Sylvester Foday Kamara and Alexandra Tavares in Medea (John Ulman)
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through November 13, 2016

A taut, sleek and musicalized version of Medea is on tap by Seattle Shakespeare Company. The normally unmusical drama includes original compositions by Shenandoah Davis that are aptly provided and allow a Greek Chorus to actually sing! This aspect elevates this well done production even more.

Ritualistically directed by Kelly Kitchens, the play runs about an hour and forty minutes straight through as the Euripides’ story of Medea unfolds on a spare, modern bedroom suite set by Andrea Bryn Bush. The translation used, by Kenneth McLeish and Frederick Raphael, feels contemporary and because of that feeling, it both helps the audience understand the words well, yet hurts the understanding of an ancient story.

Certainly, the language feels immediate and accessible, and with contemporary costuming by Chelsea Cook, it feels like it could be a story that happens today. But part of what we need to understand about Medea is that she is a woman “of her time.” Euripides wrote more than two thousand years ago about a woman treated as worthless when her husband decides to throw her over for a princess and a crown.

Because of this treatment, and because the play postulates that women are underestimated as far as their strength is concerned, Medea determines to show her power in revenge by killing. She decides to kill her rival, the princess, and intends that this will also kill King Kreon and Jason (of Argonaut fame), her husband. Most uncharacteristically, for a mother, she determines to murder her young sons in the ultimate punishment of their father.

Medea, we also learn, is a woman who has made previous powerful and dangerous decisions on behalf of her choice of husband, Jason. She killed her own brother and betrayed her father. No shrinking violet, she.

There are many directorial touches that work well in this production: Medea (played with mastery and passion by Alexandra Tavares) is raging torturously around her bedroom suite (off stage but very apparent) during the beginning of the play, while the boys’ nurse gives the expository speeches about the circumstances. Kitchens asks Yadira Duarte to do that in both English and Spanish, which is interesting and effective, though it does lose a bit of clarity.

The Greek Chorus of Maya Burton, Sunam Ellis, Chelsea LeValley, Kathryn Van Meter, Lucy Weber, and Dedra D. Woods all sing, while repeating ritualistic and beautifully chosen (by choreographer Donald Byrd) gestures. The songs mirror the activity and the theme, and the Chorus emphasizes many aspects of female bonding. The women both decry and approve of Medea’s actions. They understand why she makes the choices she makes, even as they can’t stop her.

Tavares does show a whole range of responses, in wavering over whether to murder her children, and in conversation with Jason as played by Sylvester Foday Kamara, where it seems like there is a moment when she could change her mind entirely, if only Jason would abandon his scheme to marry the princess. Kamara demonstrates exactly the right levels of male privilege, here.

The two children are adorable. Cecilia Cruz and Gabriel Mudge-Burns both perform professionally!

Lighting by Kent Cubbage amps up the dramatic portent, as does the ominous rumbling of sound design by Jay Weinland. The rest of the cast includes John Bianchi, Peter Crook, Kevin McKeon, and Matt Sherrill.

This is a great production of this tragedy to see, though I would caution bringing children younger than teens due to … you know…. dead kids. There will be a lot to talk about on the drive home.

For more information go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-783-8222.