Theatre Y at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square. By Euripedes. Adapted by Robinson Jeffers. Directed by Kevin V. Smith. With Melissa Lorraine, Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Simina Contras. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
Theatre Y takes the ancient Greek tragedy of Medea and fills it to the brim with avant-garde style and symbolism. Layers of action and meaning constantly overlap and collide in this hauntingly staged but overwhelming production. The beautiful clashes with the absurd, intimacy and grandeur rip each other to shreds, and no two elements blend together. There is the distinct impression that existential passion and pain were poured in bucketfuls into the play, resulting in a Medea that's as internally tortured as its filicidal heroine. The raw, unflinching tone that's the source of its appeal is eventually overwhelmed by the weirdness, and the intelligently complex staging becomes downright byzantine.
For those who missed it in high school: Medea betrayed her own people to save the hero Jason and followed him home to Corinth, where they married and had two children—before Jason decides to marry the daughter of the king, and has Medea and his sons marked for exile. Medea can be seen as a proto-feminist text, and in this director Kevin V. Smith makes some bold but brilliant choices. Notably, the Chorus is played entirely by young women getting ready for prom, with their own corner of the stage decked out with bathroom vanities. Their lines become gossip, and it connects the women of the past with those in the present. It’s uncomfortable in a good way; a reminder of the primordial pain of beauty and heady romances that so often fail.
When Medea is focused on its feminine aspect it finds its center, and Melissa Lorraine’s frighteningly human performance elicits sympathy and terror in the same breath. Her address to the women of Corinth, delivered while seated directly in front of the audience, is a notable high point for her and the play. Her pleas for help are tempered by her sense of justice, her outrage, and her love for her husband. It’s clear that she cannot choose any one way of addressing her plight, and that each calls for a different—and wrong—response. As a woman, she has no recourse, no sanctioned ability to choose one or the other.
However, the play fails whenever it must interact with the masculine. The misogyny is cheap, and cartoonish. King Creon (Barry Hubbard) is a B-movie villain, while Jason (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia) comes off as mildly arrogant and not much else. The power of men is the driving force behind the plot, but they never feel powerful or dangerous. Medea fails to dive into the emotional depths of their dominance and justifications for abuse, and what is there it gets wrong.
And unfortunately, it devolves underneath its strangeness, with a confusing blend of period styles in the costumes. The tutor is a cat (literally) that constantly dies and resurrects. There’s a clown. Modern pop music. A lot of screaming. I found myself hoping the ghost of King Hamlet would arrive to whet the play’s almost blunted purpose.
The distractions force their way to the forefront and eventually dominate the production to severe detriment. Everything is noisy and there’s far too much to keep track of, almost all unnecessary. Somewhere along the way it became obsessed with “just one more idea”, and I just stopped taking any of them seriously.