Thursday, September 24, 2009

review - Medea

by Euripides, translated by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael
directed by Lenka Udovicki
Freud Playhouse, UCLA
through October 18
What makes or breaks the interpretation of a classical piece of theatre entails 2 things: first, stay true to the playwright and second, if your concept is imaginatively daring, make sure it serves the author's intent. If it's unnecessarily excessive, scratch it! Every well-written play, classical or contemporary, deserves a production that represents and retains its integrity. Lenka Udovicki's bold and interestingly staged Medea is at once breathtaking to watch and echoing quite clearly the universal themes of infidelity and revenge.
The cast is brilliant, led by the luminous Annette Bening in the title role. Bening charts her course well, starting lowkey and then building to an intense ferocity that the part demands. She is appropriately up and down with her emotions, displaying bewilderment, confusion, love, hate, instability and strength. Medea is a complex woman, and at play's end, we should not see her reduced to inconsolable madness, but rather resigned, steadfast and somehow even insanely proud of her triumph over disloyalty. Bening delivers. Angus Macfadyen as Jason is deceitful and cunning, yet formidable, as he must accept his guilt and live with his crimes, as well as Medea's.
Mary Lou Rosato is astonishing as the Corinthian baglady, serving as both narrator and pitiful participant of the background chorus. She is physically adept and fun to watch. Hugo Armstrong as the King of Athens offers a fine performance of a man who compromises for his own gain. Daniel Davis makes Kreon dictatorial and vengeful, but it is the chorus of 12 women with slicked down boyish hair and uniformed like alien soldiers who rivet our attention as they move, literally darting in quick step fashion around the stage. Udovicki's concept of them pervading Medea's conscience at every angle is concise and evocative.
The music with omnipresent drums by Pirayeh Pourafar and Houman Pourmehdi in collaboration with Nigel Osborne lends an air of creepiness to the funereal atmosphere and the entire scenic design by Richard Hoover with a raked stage covered with sand representing the dark and gloomy exteriors outside Kreon's palace leaves an indelibly morbid impression of death and loss.
This is a stunning production whose fresh elements of sight and sound fully enhance Euripides' oversized tragedy. As in Shakespeare's Macbeth, there are limited laughs in this warlike prison hell, but while you are entrapped, it's a virtual reality of nightmarish proportions.
5 out of 5 stars


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