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Euripides provides us some of the most wrenching theater imaginable. In “Medea”, he portrays a mythic Georgian woman, who, scorned by her Greek husband, becomes the embodiment of revenge.
UMD Theatre well tells the tale tonight through Sunday, March 25 at the Dudley Experimental Theatre in the Marshall Performing Arts Center.
The playwright was born on the island of Salamis. I once rode there with my father-in-law to water his grapes. At sunset, we walked past small homes of all colors on our way back to the short ferry ride to Pireaus, Athens’ port. The delicious aroma of garlic frying in olive oil hung in the air.
The antiquity of Greece (Hellas) is in-your-face wherever you turn. Agamemnon’s palace hangs high on the Peloponnesus, not that far from Corinthos, the place where Medea and Jason eventually made their home, grew their family. Jason, himself from the north, from lush Thessaloniki, was sent away to the Black Sea in the Argo, ostensibly to find the golden fleece, but supposedly to his death.
Georgians still collect gold washed downstream by placing a lambskin in the water. It was only through an encounter with Medea that Jason successfully returned with his fleece from this treacherous trip. She killed a dragon, saved him over and over, and finally, even deserted her culture and her father to accompany him back.
The play’s action begins upon a betrayal. Jason has just chosen to leave Medea, who sacrificially left her family and every familiar custom to wed him. Corinthian King Creon’s beautiful daughter has caught his eye; the new liaison will ensure him a gainful future.
There are a multitude of memorable lines. My own sister would have offered, “Don’t lose heart if you lose a man,” upon the occasion when my own Greek husband saw the grass greener on the other side.
Abandonment can bring great grief. Medea asks why men have composed music for festivals and gatherings, but not music to ease the pain of living. She lists the woes of women: first, throwing money at men to buy them as husbands; then, being owned; then, having to learn the ways of a new household. While a man can give his heart a holiday, a woman has to accept but one face. The chorus of three: “he liked us dumb and dancing.”
King Creon does not trust what Medea might do, and comes to ban her and her sons. She begs for one day to figure out where they might go.
Jason accuses his wife of precipitating her banishment in cursing Creon. He tells her it was goddess Aphrodite who saved the Argot expedition, not Medea. Retracting a step, he admits she helped, yet insists she got more than she gave: 1) to live in Greece 2) to have the Greeks know her.
Jason lets her know he still desires her. Do we believe him that the new hook-up is only for wealth, for new sons that will be kings to provide for their two children?
Medea does not buy a word of it. Why should she “believe in the words of a Greek”? She orchestrates the rest of the play, total revenge. Although she questions her final solution, she carries it out.
Junior Elizabeth Efteland is Medea who-does-not-back-down. Freshman Jayson Speters commands, is duped as Jason. Senior Tristan Tifft as wooden Creon mistakenly gives the gift of a single day. Junior Daniel Novick is the limping pedagogue. Junior Paul LaNave, a slave, grippingly relates the results of Medea’s excess. Senior Gracie Anderson, the children’s nurse, tries to spare them. Freshman Joe Cramer as the King of Athens provides Medea’s escape.
The Greek chorus of three reflects, gives advice, is the pulse. Sophomore Jenna Houck has costumed to effect: Medea in flame red, the rest subdued. The stage is sparse. The Greek words are all.
The UMD players under Director, Ann Bergeron, bring us a masterpiece. Showtimes are 7:30 for all performances except Sunday at 2:00. Get there early; not many seats remain.
Arrive early to get a seat.