nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 26, 2005
Language can hold so much power. The English language, the one I know best, can be wrought into lyrical punches in the face. At the same time, much of our language has become far removed from what it was originally meant to symbolize. It’s like a copy of a copy of a copy. This is especially true when it comes to an archaic language. Much of the bite has been lost over time because we simply don’t get idioms of the period. Joseph Goodrich, in his new translation of Euripedes’s Medea, attempts to bridge this gap between ancient and modern idioms in order to recreate the “bite” of the original text. In many ways he is very successful, while in others he takes the idea of the idiom just a bit too far.
If you know anything about the plot of Medea then you know that Medea, jilted wife of Jason, in an act of horrific domestic violence, kills their two young boys. But of course there’s a lot more to it than that. The play picks up at the point where Medea is in a pit of despair that quickly turns into rage. Her husband Jason has decided he needs to make a grab for more power and leaves Medea for the daughter of Creon, the King of Corinth. Creon has ordered her to leave the country because of the wild threats she has been making against himself, his daughter and of course Jason. She convinces Creon to let her stay one more day. As it turns out, that is all the time she needs to set her plan in motion. She wants Jason to feel her pain and she accomplishes that and then some. By analogy, Jason slaps her and she in turn eviscerates him. In this case what they say about a woman scorned is so true it’s kind of scary!
It’s a powerful story and I’m sure ancient Greek audiences were catharting all over the place but to a modern audience this sort of domestic violence can be seen on the news on any given night. So Goodrich’s idea to update the language in an attempt to pack it with punch is a good one. He certainly succeeds in bringing out a little more ironic and dark humor in his text. I giggled in a few places where I never had before. There are also some exchanges, particularly between Medea and Jason, that struck me as more real due to Goodrich’s crisp modern dialogue. However, his use of idiom at times goes a little over the top. At one point, for example, Medea calls Jason a “lying, cheating, gash-hound” and I just had to laugh (and not in the good way). He also uses the words "fuck" and "cunt" a bit excessively. These words don’t shock me and don’t offer the text “bite”—they merely make me think that there must be a better way to say what he’s trying to say. A few well-placed “fucks” would have been more powerful. To me, modernization doesn’t mean you have to debase the language.
Ernest Johns’s direction is tight and his vision of highlighting the horrific tragedy with blood and passion is clear. However, the overall acting style seems a bit presentational; that is it lacks connections to true emotion. Goodrich’s dialogue is realistic and modern but Johns’s direction doesn’t complement it with realistic acting. So I never really felt anything for any of the main characters. I also never really got a sense that Medea and Jason were ever really in love. This could be due to lack of chemistry between the two actors.
Ramona Floyd is certainly a talented actor. She has moments as Medea that are striking, but I just didn’t make a connection. I was continually pulled out of the moment by her recurring use of rage in her voice to present her passion instead of just being passionate. Pascal Beauboeuf plays Jason with a little more connection to real emotions that fall in line with the dialogue a little better. Angus Hepburn plays a strong Creon and Mickey Ryan is solid as Medea’s only ally Aegeus. Lynn Marie Macy plays a rather breathy one-woman chorus while Elsie James steals some laughs as the Nanny. Taylor Wilcox’s speech as the Messenger with all the bad news is singularly terrific.
Nicole Frachiseur creates an outstanding themed costume design and the set and lighting design courtesy of David Kniep is practical and aesthetic.
Perhaps it is Goodrich’s and Johns’s intention to juxtapose realistic dialogue with presentational acting, but it just didn’t work for me. It’s an interesting concept and I think it may be worth a look if only to see how it works for you.