Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy Medea is Meredith College Theatre’s latest intrepid production. The plot centers around Medea — sorceress and scorned wife — and her plot for revenge on her husband Jason for marrying the princess of Corinth. This marriage results in Medea’s imminent exile from the kingdom by King Kreon. The play is directed by Meredith theatre professor Steven Roten and features a cast of 18 actors. Despite how well done it is, Medea is by no means a happy play and will appeal mostly to history and Greek mythology fans, though it still has something for everyone.
The precautions needed due to COVID-19 have absolutely made this show one to remember for everyone involved. The handling of its intimate moments is extremely well done given social distancing regulations. Each performance is held outside in the McIver Amphitheatre with the crew, actors and audience all wearing masks. The show is staged so the actors never get within six feet of each other, and in addition to regular masks, each actor is outfitted with a Greek mask molded to the shape of their face. Lead actress Laura Austin, ‘21, and Chorus member Kate Polaski, ‘23, agree that working in face masks is “spitty and sweaty,” but they both have found it to be a good learning opportunity for physical storytelling and growth as actors. Polaski commented on this, saying, “You spend years as an actor working on your facial expressions, and suddenly when that’s completely gone, you have to find new ways for your body to feel and display the emotion you want to express.”
This performance of Medea is Greek theatre performed the way it was meant to be performed. The costumes are simple and classic, yet elaborately decorated with green, red and gold elements. The set’s use of the golden door of Medea’s house as its centerpiece functions well. As sophomore Caroline O’Dekirk, Medea’s stage manager, explained, “The front of the set arches toward the audience, but in the back, there are some boards to stand behind. Once they’re behind that arch, the actors can’t really be seen.” Her favorite part of being a stage manager is helping people and keeping things organized. This level of organization is essential for such an action-packed show. O’Dekirk would also like it known how proud she is of this cast and crew for their hard work on Medea and is grateful for how positive the experience was despite COVID-19 difficulties.
With no intermission and a runtime of just over an hour and a half, Medea’s pace moves quickly, leaving the audience reliant on the Chorus to stay caught up with the action. I applaud the nine-person Chorus for their strong, varied physicality and the fact that each of them is their own character. Polaski explained, “We’ve each developed our own character backgrounds. I know my character is against all the violence in the show, but she still has to be there for it.” The Chorus pleads with Medea not to go through with her revenge plot, warning her she will become the most miserable woman alive. This entire cast deserves awards for their physicality, vocal projection and range of emotions they convey with their voices and body movements.
Laura Austin shared that her favorite part of the performance is when Medea’s husband Jason comes to see his irate ex-wife and is angry with her for cursing the royal family. In this scene and in her final one later on, Medea shines. Although she speaks mainly about her fury and desire for revenge when onstage, Austin finds emotional nuance in the text and brings a deep vulnerability to her voice in sadder, more pleading moments. Her physicality and stage presence is powerful and I struggled to take my focus off her when another character would enter the scene. This is fitting because Austin sees Medea as “a powerful woman and a force to be reckoned with.” In preparation for this role, she dug deeply into the script and Medea’s background in actual Greek mythology. In her final year at Meredith, she is grateful to be able to do live theatre during a pandemic and emphasized that the best place to sit in the amphitheater while socially distant from others is in the very center of the middle section.
Austin also explained the process for attending a performance. There’s a Google Form for making a reservation to see the show at a specific date and time, and an “Assumption of Risk” form is emailed to audience members once their reservation has been confirmed. Patrons must read the form, sign it and email a picture of it to Front of House Coordinator Stacie Whitley at firstname.lastname@example.org. The process is well worth it to see such an amazing performance of a Greek myth that, as Laura put it, “we’re doing in a new way, by which I mean the old way.”
In the final scene of the show, which is also Jason’s best, Medea exclaims when arguing heatedly with him, “The gods know who began this!” Laura Austin explained that this English translation of the script is a feminist version and strives to see Medea as less of a sick twisted villain and more of an important woman, betrayed by her husband who takes little to no pleasure in her revenge. I took a lot of pleasure in watching this show and speaking with its friendly, talented cast and crew. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the cast and crew hope you do as well.
Medea will be performed in Meredith’s McIver Amphitheatre at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on the weekends of Oct. 24-25 and Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
Click here to RSVP to a Medea performance.
By Claire Heins, Contributing Writer