"Is Medea's crime Medea's glory?" asks Irish playwright Brendan Kennelly in his important new version of Euripides' riveting classic drama of revenge.
With the American premiere of this unique production of "Medea," the UMBC Theatre Department continues its admirable policy of presenting outstanding, innovative experimental works.
The most potent example of the truth of the adage, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," Medea is the first completely drawn female character of theater and she expresses the first dramatic protest against the lot imposed on her by the ruling class of men.
Like Euripides, who scripted the work in 431 B.C., Kennelly had the quandary of making this woman's terrible acts seem plausible.
The Irish poet's compelling, lyrical version, while remaining truer to the original script than those of most other playwrights, also contains relevant contemporary references couched in exquisite language that makes this translation excitingly immediate.
Kennelly has extended Euripides' interest in women to highlight the conflicts that still exist between the male and female sexes, the role women play in society, and the dark, divided morality of a fierce maternal love.
Kennelly's play is not simply the rantings of a mad, rejected wife duped by empty lies, but an awe-inspiring examination of the horrendous power of a universal passion (usually dormant in women) that dares to cross the fine line between love and hate.
In the Greek myth, Medea, a witch and priestess of Hecate, uses her sorcery to help Jason obtain the powers represented by the Golden Fleece. In doing so she flees her father's country for Greece and sacrifices her brother to Jason's cause.
Once in Creon's city, Corinth, Jason abandons Medea and their two young sons to marry a young woman of royal blood. Medea rages and exacts a savage vengeance on the new bride and, in her ultimate horrific act, drives her husband to the outer regions of insane grief.
Directed with poetic sensitivity and deep insight by UMBC associate professor of theater Sam McCready, the production is a spectacle for the eyes. Designed by Elena Zlotescu, the white sandy set with its stucco walls and arched window insets surround a clear pool of water in which much of the symbolic action takes place.
The costumes by Zlotescu are real masterpieces that fitfully denote each characterization.
In the sound department, however, the slight rumble of drums throughout the play could rise to a more barbarian beat that would better accentuate the force of Medea's dark plotting.
In Kennelly's version, combined with McCready's interesting and original staging, the female Greek chorus is made up of strong-minded individuals as opposed to the usual collective voice.
The student cast, overall, does well with the long, descriptive passages that demand complex transitions and fine nuances.
Linda B. Stein is most convincing in the nurturing role of the Nurse although the actress got off to a shaky start in her opening narrative in which she has the tough feat of laying the groundwork for the story and establishing not only her own character but that of Medea and the others.
James Brown-Orleans, an excellent young actor, has created a fully rounded characterization in the role of the cheerfully philosophical teacher instructing Medea's sons.
As Medea, the most complex, challenging role ever created for a woman, Eileen Keenan turns in an intelligent, thoughtful performance. The grand passion of this multi-layered female is disappointingly missing, but Keenan's understated characterization is certainly convincing.
Persuasive performances are given by Rodney M. Sauter, Matthew Sherman, Mark Squirek, Tony Gallahan, Les Williams an
d the chorus ensemble. The two little boys are sweetly portrayed by Gabriel Saunders and Jeanette Clark.
"Medea" continues at UMBC Theatre, Catonsville campus, tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6 for general public, $4 for students and seniors.