Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., Nov. 29, 2002
Medea: If Looks Could Kill --The Vortex, through Nov. 30
Running Time: 1 hr, 40 min
This new, modern-set adaptation by playwright Liz Lochhead of Euripides' tale of the spurned wife who finds justification for horrible and grisly actions sounds as staid and familiar as most straight-up translations of the Greek tragedy, despite several colloquialisms and the odd rude word. And this Vortex Repertory Company production really doesn't begin to scratch the surface of a tale so hideous yet compelling. To be sure, director Lorella Loftus and her design team have created a sequence of striking dramatic tableaux, but that hardly tells the story. The production suffers from shallowness, a somnambulistic pace, a lack of dramatic tension, little effective storytelling, and several subpar performances. The effect is akin to watching a slide show of phenomenal vistas, with an attendant drone describing in needless detail what the pictures convey so much more effectively. The deeper aspects of the story -- the stuff not seen -- that infuses the characters with their passion and keeps the audience on tenterhooks awaiting the foretold, catastrophic climax is, well, missing here. We just get the cool pictures.
The feast for the eyes includes Loftus' use of four actresses to share the title role, as well as play the Chorus. This allows for some dynamic and expressive stage pictures, a modicum of humor, and occasional symbolic flashes. Jason Amato's lighting design is fractured and dark, with slashes and bright spots of light punctuating a saturated, dark, smoky playing area. It is brilliant for creating mood, though stroboscopic effects force meaning on several moments that, quite frankly, should carry that meaning on their own. Pam Fletcher Friday's contemporary costumes, with the exception of the Nurse's odd black attire, are slick and sexy on the Medea/Chorus and weirdly familiar on everyone else. But that doesn't mean the characters come from any world we'd recognize, and there again is the problem: Things look great, and characters say the words, but there is little connection to something deeper in the human spirit that might resonate with those watching.
The four-person Medea/Chorus lends itself to striking stills, but it dilutes the character's obsessiveness and monstrousness. Shared by actresses Paula Gilbert, Wendy Goodwin, Betsy McCann, and Regina Yunker, this Medea is ungrounded. She floats from grim reflection to murderous thought to coy interaction, none of which compels. Missing, too, in Loftus' staging is the devious, frightening sexuality of Medea that seems to be present in Lochhead's text. In the best bit of storytelling, Josh Meyer's Tutor relates the end of the royal family at Medea's hands. He sits open-legged with one of the Medeas before him on the floor in what should be a sexually charged and dangerous bit, but it's too safe. For a company renowned for its boldness when it comes to exposing the sexual side of characters (and actors), this production lacks.
Occasionally, the poetry in the script and Loftus' stage images combine to dark and eerie effect. But this Greek tragedy is more than a harrowingly beautiful collection of shots of monuments. Beyond that superficiality lies something dark, sexy, dangerous, forbidden, and strangely reasonable. Pretty pictures aren't enough to tell that complex tale.