By Emily Alexander
Euripides’ play Medea follows the life and tragedy of an ancient Greek sorceress whose jealousy and passion drive her to commit unimaginable crimes. In the traditional version of the play (which, to be honest, I have only read on SparkNotes), Jason, Medea’s husband, decides to marry another woman. Medea’s heartbreak quickly turns violent; she first kills Jason’s new wife and her father, and then her own children, leaving Jason with no one. Obviously, Medea is not the most warm or nurturing mother. She is often perceived as a monstrous woman, ruled by unbridled passion and out of control emotions. Euripides is celebrated for his complex characters and Medea is certainly one of them. However, U of I’s Medea: Her Story takes the complexity of this character to a new level, providing us with a new version of the play that allows Medea to reclaim the story as her own.
Medea in the present moment is played by the beautiful and inspiring Kelly Eviston-Quinnett, a professor and head of acting here at the U of I. The play opens with her in jail awaiting her execution while the music from Jason’s wedding floats around in the distance. As she wanders around the stage, in and around the shallow pool installed in the center, she repeats, again and again, “Medea’s a witch, Medea’s evil, Medea killed her children.”
We then go back in time as Medea tells her story. Olivia Longin plays the young version of Medea who falls deeply and passionately in love with Jason, played by Alex Wendel. Present-day Medea floats around the stage ethereally, narrating parts of the action and stepping in and out of the dialogue.
As Medea’s story unfolds, her pain becomes more and more evident and more and more relatable. This interpretation encourages us to dig deeper into Medea’s past; it revisions the character’s motives and introduces new and unexpected reasons behind why she did what she did. While the original work portrays Medea as a villain from beginning to end, I think this version allows Medea to become more human. She and Jason have such a clear and genuine love for each other that causes us to question Jason’s motivation behind marrying another woman.
The emotion that radiated from each actor in this show was heavy and palpable; the final scene found many audience members in tears and all of us silent, stunned, and struggling to process the impossible circumstances set in front of us before standing to applaud the people who put it there.
One of the most important aspects of this production was the set. The pool took up almost the entire stage so that the actors had to either walk through it or stay towards the outskirts of the stage. The weight of the show relied, in part, on the pool itself; the characters splashed each other, washed themselves, soaked their clothes. It created another layer of intensity in such a creative and interesting way.
By the end of the play, we still wonder why Medea killed her children, but I’m not sure if there is really a clear answer. Perhaps she doesn’t need to tell us explicitly why she did what she did. Reason has obviously been abandoned. I think the power of this play comes from the fact that it is Medea’s story; she may not have any kind of rational or understandable explanation, and yet she still gets to express her side of things in a way that hasn’t really been done before. Most importantly, we get to feel for her and with her as she struggles to reconcile with herself and her loved ones. This interpretation focuses less on Medea as an evil monster and more on her as a vulnerable human being who is, as she cries in the final scene, just “trying to be good.”
*The show will continue Thursday 10/20 until Sunday 10/23. For more information visit http://www.uidaho.edu/class/theatre/productions-and-events