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A CurtainUp Review

Medea Moves to Broadway
Deborah Warner's updated take on the blodthirstiest scorned wife ever, as portrayed by Fiona Shaw, sold out during its brief run at BAM. But those who missed it were given 84 chances to play catchup at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson theater. Same cast, different venue.

Now that I've seen the play again, I can safely report that it's transferred without a hitch. The striking cinderblock, Plexiglass and swimming pool set fits the stage perfectly. Medea's entrance is striking as ever, her eyes behind sunglasses as behooves a modern celebrity. Actors still run up and down the aisle which seems a bit more frenzied and artificial here than it did at the Harvey. That theater's crumbling walls also seemed to suit the mix of ancient and modern better than the elegance of the Atkinson. If I found the long opening monologue by the Nurse and the chatter of this ragtag Greek chorus a bit less compelling, chalk it up to seeing it so soon after the first and obviously more surprising viewing. In any case, such disappointments are minor. Fiona Shaw was and is the first, second and third reason this Medea is a not to be missed event. The actress is a marvel of shifting expressions, body language, despair and rage. --- Elyse Sommer

Current Production Notes
Brooks Atkinson, 256 W. 47th St., (Broadway/8th Av)(212) 307-4100
From 12/04/02-2/22/03; opening 12/10.
Monday - Saturday @8PM, Saturday @2PM -- : $60 - $80 Other details per production notes at end of BAM review below
A postscript: Several readers attended the play on a night which had some unanticipated bit of excitement -- an audience member having a heart attack which one evening stopped the show for about twenty minutes. This prompted one reader to express concern about the effect on the children participating in this bloody play -- and in turn yet another response from a relative of one of the actors. Since my companion at my Broadway re-viewing also mentioned the effect on the children, I am posting the two items below from our Letters page. -- e.s.

src="mail.gif"> December 25, 2002. To Mark re:effect on boys in Medea from psychologist family member (of one boy) . One of the boys in Medea is played by my 1st cousin's 6-yr old little boy, and I have some insight (perhaps) in terms of how the kids are dealing with their repetitive "killings" in such a traumatic play (PS I am I working on my master's in psych/education) And let me also mention that although I may not agree with such small children being in such a gory, emotionally confusing play (six yr olds do not have a fully formed ego), their parents are, for the most part, wonderful in other ways, ,my cousin is very loved at home, so therefore, I'm hoping for the best. All three boys are wonderful little guys (perhaps accomodating to a fault..) But nonetheless, I just hope for the best because I love my little cuz so much and he's a bright, tough little guy. Time will tell, I suppose. I have some further insights that might interest you, Mark!! Thanks for your concern...write back if you get a chance! Kate --
PS The Post exaggerates on a lot of what they report - trust me!

December 21, 2002. About the person who got sick watching Medea, (December 20th) I think it's less an evil spirit than the fact that all that violence could make people sick though I think the heart attack was probably otherwise induced. I did find myself wondering about the effect on those little boys playing the victims??? -- Mark at

Editor's Note: According to an article in the NYPost the director, Deborah Warner, declared the boys to be "unfazed." She added that what they like best is "playing dead."

--- Medea at BAM ---
Euripides has found an exhilarating new interpreter for his classic tale of the dangerous impulses unleashed in a woman scorned which is having an all too brief run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater. Debora Warner and Fiona Shaw, the dynamic duo whose previous collaborations include Electra and The Waste Land, have transformed this ancient revenge story into the most modern drama in town.

There isn't a trailing robe or Greek pillar in sight. This Medea is dressed like a suburban housewife (a rather frumpy one at that). Her children's caretaker (Siobhan McCarthy) is more au pair than stately nurse. The Corinthian landscape is evoked by glass, cinderblocks and a shallow pool in which the hapless children can float their toy boats. The handsome hunk of a husband (Jonathan Cake) who ditches her for a younger, more politically advantageous trophy wife wears jeans. The traditional Greek chorus is a multicultural mix of Corinthians with a taste for headline making scandals who watch Medea's reaction to being rejected and threatened with exile with a mix of sympathy and schadenfreude. For them Medea and Jason combine the appeal of well-known people in crisis situations and ordinary people whose extraordinary actions make them newsworthy (think modern Medeas like Susan Smith) .

Greek tragedy traditionalists, like our London critic (see link below) may object to this playing down of the magical properties Euripides gave to his anti-heroine, but I found director Warner's concept and the very accessible translation by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael bracingly relevant theater. The new text is true to Euripides despite its conversational tone and the omission of the original finale that has Medea carried to safety in her sun god grandfather's chariot. The relevance to contemporary headlines is achieved smoothly rather than forced

But the real magic of this production derives from Fiona Shaw's riveting performance. Shaw has more in common with Stevie in Edward Albee's The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? than the icy, regal Medea of Diana Riggs, or the slithering stylized Medea of Zoe Caldwell. Shaw's Medea, like Stevie, is a happily married woman whose world collapses. She is no demigod but a sexually charged, psychologically complex everywoman whose heinous acts come after much wavering as to which fork in the road to take (killing herself, Jason, her rival, her children?).

While we know the final outcome, we are kept on edge watching Shaw's Medea navigate the many moods leading to the inevitable turn in the road taken: rage ("My husband is the vilest man alive"); mournfulness ("My lovely life is lost"); indecision ("Cruel it is and wicked it is -- but what can I do?"); occasional calm and loving mothering, acerbic humor (Responding to Jason's attempts to rationalize his new marriage with "I just want to thank you for all your foresight." and telling the chorus that he's a "playboy playing philosopher").

Shaw is also a potent non-verbal actress. Her reaction whenever Jason comes within touching distances tells us all we need to know about her sexual enslavement to the man for whom she's already killed once (her brother). Just watch her Modigliani-like face during the messenger's (Derek Hutchison) recitation of the off-stage deaths of Kreon (Struan Rodger) and his daughter. To further draw us into the tension of the inevitable ending, there's the ominous humming of Mel Mercier's soundscape and the constant sprinting of actors up and down the stairs of the Harvey's aisles.

The bloody deed, when finally done, is high drama indeed with one of the chorus members literally turning this into a dance of death Shaw's leading the children to the slaughter is horrifying, especially when she rushes out to capture the one little boy who is trying to escape. Just as powerful is a final less melodramatic moment when Medea and Jason are sitting around that bloodied pool and Shaw breaks one of the boy's toy sailboats. It's as stunning an ending as any god-sent chariot could provide -- and a most promising beginning for BAM's latest Next Wave Festival.

Medea reviewed in London.

Written by Euripides
Translated by Kenneth McLeish & Frederic Raphael
Directed by Deborah Warner

Starring: Fiona Shaw (Medea), Jonathan Cake (Jason)
With: Siobhan McCarthy (Nurse), Robin Laing (Tutor), Struan Rodger (Kreon), Joseph Mydell (Aegeus), Derek Hutchison (Messenger) and Kirsten Campbell, Joyce Henderson, Rachel Isaac Pauline Lynch and Susan Salmon as the Chorus. The pairs of children alternating performances: Corey Devlin & Alex Scheitinger; Dylan Denton & Michael Tommer.
Design: Tom Pye
OriginalLighting Design: Peter Mumford
Associate Lighting Designer: Michael Gunning
Costume Design: Jacqueline Durann
Soundscapes: Mel Mercier:
Sound Designer: David Mescher
Running time: 90 minutes, without an intermission
Presented as part of BAM's Next Wave Festival
Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street (Ashland/Rockwell Pl.), Brooklyn 718.636.4100
For transportation options, including special Bam Bus Service, check the BAM website:
October 1, 2, 3-5 at 7:30pm; Oct 5 at 2pm; Oct 6 at 3pm; Oct 8-12 at 7:30pm; Oct. 12 at 2pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 5th matinee performance.
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