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This "Medea," classical in its "look,"
emphasizes modernism in the characters.

Elise Stone plays the title role in "Medea" at Jean Cocteau Repertory, directed by Eve Adamson. (Photo: Jonathan Slaff)

Presented by Jean Cocteau Repertory, Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery.
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm (except where noted), Sundays at 3:00 pm
Admission $30, $24 seniors, $15 students, TDF accepted.
Preview performances $24. Box office (212) 677-0060.
PERFORMANCE DATES: Previews April 7, 8, opens April 9, plays April 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 26 (7pm), 27 (this show has pre-show symposium with director at 7:30 pm), May 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18 (7pm), 19, 20 (3pm & 8pm), 21. ADDED PERFORMANCES: MAY 25, 26, 27 (all 8:00 pm)
Euripides' "Medea" is paradoxical in our time: so seemingly modern in its sensibility and its sensitivity to women, yet so ancient in its horror. Director Eve Adamson, who had staged a highly successful version of Anouilh's "Medea" at the dawn of the Jean Cocteau Rep in 1973, found the Euripidean version so dark by comparison that she found herself "almost afraid to go there." From this was born a concept for the production that is classical in its "look" and ushers the audience into the play's horrors gently, using the "modern-like" realities of the play and heightening the temperaments of the characters.

In the legend, the sorceress Medea, having enabled Jason to obtain the golden fleece, has been married to him for ten years. They have fled to Corinth, where Jason has renounced her to marry the princess Glauce. Medea, in revenge sends the bride a poisoned robe which kills both Glauce and the King, Creon. Anticipating that the Corinthians will avenge the crime by putting her children to death, she kills them herself and flees to Athens.

To make the horrors real, Adamson's plan is to heighten all the moments when it could have turned out differently. "The play is filled with potential happy endings that just don't happen," she says. "You do it by making them all real and believable, and this will lead us subtly into this dark, primitive, horrible world."

One instance is the encounter between Jason and Medea. Adamson explains, "She thinks, 'Oh, he's come back to me.' Of course, he hasn't. She's been promising herself, 'I'm going to be calm,' but he just pushes her buttons. They are passionate people; they've had great sex and they've been through too much together for her to forgive him."

Another "entry point" to the audience is in making Jason's situation accessible. Adamson elaborates, "They're living on the 'bad side' of Corinth, in poverty. He's trying to save their situation. He promises he'll provide for them and he's just trying to work his way into Corinthian society. It's like being upwardly mobile. Medea can't and won't handle that. But he can't advance his status there as long as he has a foreign wife. He just wants to get out of his marriage gracefully."

Adamson aims to make the punitive side of the relationship real for the audience, too. "Beside her confessed motive--that she'll kill the kids instead of leaving it to the Corinthians--Medea reveals another motive for the killing when she tells Jason 'I have touched your heart.' We've all been in that end-of-the-relationship, crazy-making place. She's like the woman who has worked her husband through medical school and he turns around and goes off with a pretty young thing."

The chorus of three women will come out of the audience, in a bit of tricky stagecraft, to suggest that "they are us." In envisioning the music, Adamson asked composer Ellen Mandel to think about David Lynch movies: "a normal world with weirdness beneath."

Euripides wrote for a time when old values were being severely questioned and in this play, almost everyone--including the chorus and the messenger--winds up questioning the gods. Aeschylus' and Sophocles' characters tend to be emblematic, while Euripides' characters tend toward "real people." Adamson attributes the play's modern sensibility to the disillusionment of Greek society from its wars during the late fifth century BC. This disillusionment is often compared to our own Vietnam experience. (Adamson is old enough to remember the birth of the modern off-off Broadway movement, much of which she attributes to the Vietnam War.) "Euripides gave us the reality," she says. "I just used it."

Medea will be played by Elise Stone and Jason will be played by Jolie Garrett. The cast also features Angela Madden as the Nurse, Craig Smith as Creon, Harris Berlinsky as Aegis (king of Athens), Jason Crowl as the messenger and Christopher Black as the tutor. The chorus will be played by Jennifer Lee Dudek, Barbara Wengerd and Angela Moore. An impressionist set, with the headboard of Medea's and Jason's bed as a central element, is designed by Robert Klingelhoefer. "Grecian" costumes are designed by Susan Soetaert. Music is composed by Ellen Mandel. Lighting design is by Eve Adamson and Harold A. Mulanix.

"Medea" will be presented April 7 to May 21, in rotating repertory with "Edward II" by Bertolt Brecht (now extended through May 4). A final show has been added to the season: "The Butter and Egg Man" by George S. Kaufman, directed by David Fuller, to be presented June 2 to 25. [NYTW]

RELATED ARTICLE: Jean Cocteau Repertory's 1999-2000 Season

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