Classic Greek tragedy ‘Medea’ still relevant

Stage Review

William Makozak (top photo from left) as Jason and Jennifer Rose as Madea show that Euripides classic tale of the scorned woman is still fresh after 24 centuries. (Below), the full cast of Madea, wearing masks, takes the stage. • Jack Grace photo

In his director’s notes in the “Medea” program Vinnie Linares offers, “Euripides skillfully uses the myth of Medea to substantially challenge the notion of harmony and balance — wanting, I believe, to have his audience leave somewhat perplexed, questioning the strong notions of right and wrong in Greek society.” The ancient play was first produced in 431 B.C. but Linares’ production is miraculously accessible 24 centuries later.

Linares wisely chooses a streamlined adaptation by Robinson Jeffers, decreasing the play’s length to less than 90 minutes, presented without an intermission. The highly accomplished cast is a veritable who’s who of Maui’s finest classically trained actors.

Carol Lem as Nurse, Madea’s slave, is outstanding in presenting the necessary exposition of “Medea” without being tutorial. Shrewdly, her character observes and foreshadows, “Ruthless is the temper of royalty. How much better to live among equals. Let me decline in a safe old age; the very name of the middle way.” Lem’s Nurse is the common woman and her strong choices make the character an audience guide in comprehending this dark and mythical world.

In the title role, Jennifer Rose’s performance is a masterpiece. Rose conveys supreme strength, elicits fear and even draws out a few uncomfortable laughs from the audience.

Historically, Euripides is credited for championing the cause of women, addressing the lowly state of the female in ancient Greece. Rose declares “Of all creatures that can feel and think we women are the worst treated things alive.” This is Euripides central theme of the play, as is “I loathed you more than I loved them.” The British playwright William Congreve is attributed the quote “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and he, undoubtedly, was familiar with “Medea.”

The full cast of Madea, wearing masks, takes the stage. • Jack Grace photos

William Makozak as Jason, Medea’s husband, commands the stage with masculine prowess. A great aid to her husband’s career for many years, Medea is discarded by Jason when he marries the daughter of King Creon of Corinth, played by Todd Van Amburgh. Van Amburgh’s Creon is haughty and impatient and he ably matches wits opposite Rose in their critical scene together. To add insult to injury, Creon banishes Medea from Corinth, but she negotiates additional time to get her affairs in order. Her impending wrath is unspeakable and epically tragic.

The simple set designed by Caro Walker aids in maintaining focus on the play’s narrative, as do the modest, classically Greek costumes designed by Vicki Nelson. Featured performers of equal aptitude include Dale Button as Tutor, Kalani Whitford as King Aegeus, and the chorus of Greek woman played by Danann Mitchell, Camille Romero and Barbara Sedano, who propose “One day the story will change, then shall the glory of women resound, reversing at last the sad reputation of ladies.”

* Oh Boy Productions’ “Medea” ends this weekend. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $20 at the door only.