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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

For my children's sake, I'd sell my soul.—Medea
Annette Benning
(Photo: Micahel Lamont)
It may not be exactly the "if you've got it, spend it" school of theatrical production, but, my heavens, Annette Bening. . .plus Medea. . .plus exploding light towers!

There are features of the Lenka Udovicki-directed production of Euripides' tragedy which, while not entirely clashing with the aesthetic of this Medea, do seem to reek of staging indulgence. Admittedly, this is UCLA Live's first fully produced show. With a major star on stage and an internationally heralded director pulling the strings, you don't want to send audiences home feeling underfed, especially not when they've shelled out $80 to $110 a pop for the privilege.

Topical or otherwise (a woman scorned is a woman scorned, now or 2,500 years ago), Medea is not really a play that begs for production opulence. Basically, you've got the wronged sorceress working through her raging feelings of displacement and rejection at the hands of her husband and reaching a singularly horrific decision on how to work it out.

Bening, who even when young was nobody's Desdemona, can easily summon up the fire of someone who is near the edge. Schemer, lover, avenging angel, tigress of a mother — the three time Oscar nominee can and does find all the proper shadings at the proper times. We even get an offstage chorus of keening despair (musically accompanied by the Lian Ensemble) before Ms. B even hits the stage. When she arrives, some 10 minutes in, she's a dark robed figure, emerging from a rusty corrugated door, striding along the barren sandbox of Richard Hoover's compound set. She idly tears out a large clump of hair (what remains is short, borderline boyish), and she twitches endlessly at the fastenings of her garments.

Not one for tears, this Medea nonetheless takes each fresh bit of despair as a body blow. That army of a chorus can't help. Neither can the cracked Corinthian woman (Mary Lou Rosato) who keeps reminding Medea of uncomfortable truths. Then Jason (Angus Macfadyen) arrives on the scene with mealy mouthed protestations of devotion and explanations of the way things work. And while it's hard to sympathize with a monster, the entitled pomposity of Macfadyen's Jason make us want to see him brought low.

Ludivicki (who staged this play previously for her Ulyssyes Theatre), set designer Hoover and special effects designer/coordinator Peter Chesney seem determined to supply plenty of eye candy. The towering prison-like walls of the Corinthian fortress, those power lines, that hand cart which will be put to incendiaryuse. . .it's all well and good, and it all feels like so much visual pyrotechnics.
Stripped down would have suited this performance, even at this price. Give the lady her space without the added frippery of 12 &mdash count 'em, 12 &mdash chorus members wearing what look like converted leather wet suits, slicked back wigs and burgundy bras. Content yourself to displaying Medea's dark magic via her curing the King of Athens (Hugo Armstrong) of his limp. For that matter, content yourself to watching an actress, with a stage career renaissance, convincingly playing madness and despair. Here's wondering what Annette Bening will do &perhaps in The Female of the Species in 2010 at the Geffen Playhouse &mdash in a comedy.

By Euripides, translated by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael
Directed by Lenka Udovicki
Cast: Annette Bening (Medea), Angus Macfadyen (Jason), Daniel Davis (King Kreson of Corinth), Mary Lou Rosato (Corinthian Woman), Hugo Armstrong (Aigeus, King of Athens), Joseph Ruskin (Tutor), Logan Karlen (Child), Jacob Karlen (Child), Adam Haas Hunter (Soldier), (Jesse Saler (Soldier) Katherine Bergstrom, Erica Bitton, Kathleen Heverin, Emily Jackson, Lauryn Whitney, Jennifer Roleau, Megan Pfefferkorn, Jill Renner, Micaela Topbin, Briana Venskus, Tiffany Wunsch, Anne Yatco (Chorus)
Stage Manager: Mary Michele Miner
Set Design: Richard Hoover
Costume Design: Bjanka Adzic Ursulov
Lighting Design: Lap Chi Chu
Sound Design: John Coleman
Movement Designer: Stasa Zurovac
Special Effects Designer and Coordinator: Peter Chesney
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes with no intermission
UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, 245 Charles E. Young Drive East, Westwood.
From September 18 to October 18
Tue-Sat. @ 8pm, Sun @ 7 pm.
Reviewed by Evan Henerson, based on October 7 performance.
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