Thursday, July 29, 2010
Thursday Evening in the East Village: Xoregos Performing Company's "Medea" by Euripides at Tompkins Square Park
This evening we saw a compelling 70-minute production of Euripides's Medea by Xoregos Performing Company in Tompkins Square Park.
We arrived early and found a seat on a bench where we saw others sitting and people in stylized Greek costumes in front, so we figured we were in the right place.
The play was directed and choreographed by Shela Xoregos, a veteran of numerous classical productions, who apparently views Medea as the first extant feminist play and makes an excellent case for it by the way she sets up the portrayal of the rage of the wronged wife Medea, left by her husband for a second (trophy) wife in the form of a princess, and how this rage - and terror - lead her to icily controlled madness, infanticide, and ruin for all.
At top, the entire cast is reciting the prologue by Kimberly Shelby-Skyszo, which economically described the background of Medea and Jason and set the stage, literally, for the inexorable tragedy to come.
The cast featured Amanda Elizabeth Sawyer giving a subtle, chilling and very postmodern performance in the title role as the wronged and ultimately monstrous Medea, who moves from abandoned depressive to efficient killer, and Michael Lawrence Eisenstein as a feckless, dynamic Jason; you honestly believe he is a former hero grown cocky, but when he loses all he has tried to grasp for at the tragedy's end, he realizes his own moral cowardice).
In the sympathetic roles of Medea's servants, Sydney Allyson Francis as the Nurse, Andrew R. Cooksey as the Tutor of the two sons (played by somehow even more pathetic dolls with bright red and blond hair) are moving in their concern.
David Allen Green played both Creon, the King of Corinth, whose daughter has stolen Jason from Medea, and very effectively later, the Messenger who chillingly relates the doom unleashed by Medea in Creon's household. (His horror-filled narrative is made even more so by his lack of awareness of Medea's icy, delighted reaction upon hearing it.)
Philip Burke is AEgeus, the noble, generous but a little too politic King of Athens,
and much of the play's mood was conveyed in movement as well as words by a trio of Emilys as the Chorus of Corinthian Women: Emily Beuchat, Emily Philio and Emily Tuckman.
The cast had to put up with a lot of park distractions to concentrate, as did the audience. Elderly people and children seemed to walk right in front of the actors with total obliviousness, briefly there was one ranting psychotic in the background and one elderly drunk who got in between Medea and Jason (we persuaded him to sit down next to us; "You'll be sorry," he said, and we were); a large group of bicyclists in three-cornered colonial hats with cardboard horse's heads mounted on the their bikes (they were loud and protesting something or other); and basically the usual East Village freak show. But we all persevered, cast and audience alike, and it was worth it.
The costumes by designer Dorthée Sénéchal and associate designer Jara Belmonte were quite ingenious, with the capes a wonderful touch. Also clever was the stylized final escape by Medea in a barely-suggested but clear interpretation of the dragon-pulled chariot that provides her getaway. Composer Nick Revel set selected choral odes to be sung á capella.
The production was commissioned by the Queens Public Library, and we're sure that earlier performances at the Forest Hills, Flushing, and Jackson Heights branches, as well as ones at Bronx and Manhattan libraries, had fewer distractions. There's one last performance at the Broadway (at 41st Street) branch of the Queens Library on Saturday at 2 p.m.
We're glad we got to see this Medea tonight, exactly three weeks after we saw another Euripides play in a Manhattan park.