Photo courtesy of Rocco Weyer Johnson

Theatre prepares for play “Medea”

One of Ancient Greece’s most notorious tragedies will be painted in bright colors, dressed in lavish gowns and set to bubbly love songs in Fir Acres Theatre’s upcoming production of “Medea.”

The play follows the titular Medea, a woman who left both her family and homeland behind to marry Jason, an adventurer who soon marries another woman. Betrayed and with few people left to turn to, she plots one of the most infamous revenges in theatrical history — one that involves the murder of her own children. 

Director and Adjunct Faculty Jenna Tamimi switches the play from its original setting of Greece in the 5th century BCE to suburban America in the 1950s. The production largely takes place in a perfect, pristine mid century home. The design is crafted by a student team led by Amber Adamski ’22, Abby Jacquin ’22, Ryann St. Julien ’22 and Karen Wingard ’22. The show’s stage manager, Mary-Alice Perkins ’22, believes the change in setting will help audiences better connect to the story.

“I hope that when the audience sees ‘Medea’ performed in this 1950s kitchen, they will see the universality of the show and be able to connect to the story in a more modern light,” Perkins said. 

Using the idealized, saccharine aesthetic of the 1950s in the context of this painful story also serves as a demonstration of the shallowness of the era’s pleasantries. Suddenly, the suffering hidden underneath simmers to the surface. 

Tamimi aimed to connect this theme to current events in the U.S., hoping to reflect how “women today are still trapped.” 

“The phrase ‘make America great again’ is still reverberating in our ears, and I think when people say that, often what they have in mind is this idealized image of the 1950s, the nuclear family, the white picket fence, ‘traditional’ values,” Tamimi said. “We know that beneath that, there’s this raging misogyny, racism, homophobia.”

Zoe Brouwer ’22, who is giving their thesis performance in the role of Medea, has been preparing to play the part since the summer. It is a demanding role, as Medea has the majority of the play’s dialogue and rarely leaves the stage. For Brouwer, the two eras reflect each other well.

“The ’50s was so characterized by that suburban, patriarchal family, perfect paradise, and that perfect ideal correlates really well with Athenian society,” Brouwer said.

The play is also historic for being one of the first Greek tragedies to feature such a complex female character.

“It is one of western drama’s first exploration into a female character’s interiority,” Tamimi said.

The character, as noted by Paul S. Wright Professor of Christian Studies  Robert Kugler, has long been a point of interest to those looking to explore issues regarding gender and misogyny. 

“She offers thinkers enormous opportunity to address gender in their literary or artistic compositions,” Kugler said.

However, Tamimi acknowledges that, when staged in the modern day, the outdated language of such old works can alienate audience members.

“One of the things that can often turn people off to a kind of ancient text is the language, and feeling that it’s inaccessible,” Tamimi said. “That’s been one of the big challenges, to make that language accessible, and to find the moments in the text where it feels very colloquial and conversational.”

The production does not change the flowery dialogue of the original, but makes it more accessible to audiences by having the actors deliver the lines in a natural, realistic fashion. 

“I go line by line and I think about how I would say that, rephrasing it,” Brouwer said.  “It’s just a lot of bringing it down and trying to make it more realistic.”

By adapting the story for a modern audience, “Medea” displays the importance of revisiting ancient work. To Kugler, looking at works of the past is needed to examine the present.

“We need (Greek tragedies), alongside the classic works from other times and places, to help us look deeply at ourselves as individuals and communities,” Kugler said.

“Medea” opens Friday, March 11, and has shows on March 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17. Tickets are on sale at the Fir Acres Box Office and on the Lewis & Clark website.

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