nytheatre.com review by Keelie A. Sheridan
September 23, 2011
On the surface, Euripides’ Medea is simply a tale of revenge. The title character leaves her homeland and betrays her people to aid Jason, whom she later marries, and bears a son. When Jason is offered the opportunity to marry the daughter of King Creon, he accepts, abandoning Medea who has been banished from Corinth and is unable to return to her homeland. In an act of personal retribution, Medea murders her husband’s new wife and father in law and then murders her child.
Director Satoshi Miyagi sees much more in this story than a grand gesture of personal grudge-holding. His interpretation of this classic tale focuses on the friction between genders and the idea of women as disposable objects; he sees Medea’s treacherous acts as “not merely revenge on her husband, but rather the destruction of this societal system.”
Set in a 19th century tea house, Miyagi’s imagining of this tale begins with the comparison of another more recent patriarchal society. As the male patrons enter, female waitresses with their faces concealed hold photos of themselves for the perusal of the men. Each male selects a waitress to act for the characters (movers); the males settle comfortably upstage to provide the vocalization for each character (speakers), so that characters of both genders are physicalized by the women and voiced by the males who sit motionless behind them. The remaining males voice the Chorus and the females provide musical accompaniment on the djembe, sabar, marimba, triangle, table, tambourine, bowl, claves, metal shaker, wood bell, bell, crash cymbal, shekere, hand bell, jingle bell, caxixi, shaker, nohkan, shinobue and pandiero—a truly delectable and encompassing auditory experience. The piece is performed in Japanese and English subtitles are displayed on a screen above the stage which fortunately does not impede the experience.
This production truly fulfills the demands of auditory, kinetic and visual theatre. Details are meticulously attended to. Shades of bunraku and kabuki are ever-present, though this experience is distinctly its own. Costumes designed by Kayo Takahashi are stunning and well appointed, lending themselves beautifully to the on-stage movement. I also noticed and was impressed with the hair and makeup work by artist Kyoko Kajita—on several occasions I forgot the women playing men were actually women. Music by Hiroko Tanakawa is stirring, moving and perfectly ambient. Additionally, the sound by Ryo Mizumura, lighting by Koji Osako and supremely beautiful and functional stage design by Jumpei Kizu marry perfectly, seamlessly creating the stylized world of this play within a play.
Performances are superb across the board. Each member of this rather large cast contributes poignantly to the ensemble. Several roles allow for standout performances among this group of distinguished artists. The breathtakingly elegant and meticulously disciplined Micari’s presence as Medea flips effortlessly between submissive wife, doting mother and terrorizing murderess. Kazunori Abe’s voicing of Medea is passionate, beautifully expressive and hair-raisingly powerful, made even more impressive by the fact that he (and the other male "speakers") never once moves from his stoic sitting position, palms carefully resting on his knees. Maki Honda’s physical portrayal of Jason is statuesque, striking and pleasingly eccentric, paired with powerful and resonating vocals from Kouichi Ohtaka. Tomokuni Nakaya’s voice is well suited to the role of Creon and Tomokuni Nakaya’s regimented masculine physicality is quite convincing. Momoyo Tateno (mover) and Soichiro Yoshiue (speaker) are completely engaging as they relay the fate of the King and his daughter, and Yuumi Sakakibara’s rendering of Medea’s son created one of the most tender and beautifully intimate instances of infanticide that has ever existed. This production is expertly executed at every level with passion, talent and discipline. It is a true sensory feast and a privilege to experience.