MEDEAArthurMiller wrote in his 1949 article Tragedy and the Common Man: the tragic feelingis evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to laydown his life to secure his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet,Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attemptingto gain his “rightful” position in his society.1 Tragedies consist these border texts that exceed the quotidianby putting on stage something greater. They speak about humans but what is actuallyat stake in tragedy is a higher concept flowing from a superior principle. This is why although the world of tragedy isswept by disaster it provides a lens to look both at society and ourselves (ifwe could separate one from the other) through a different lens. Partly becauseof the temporal distance and partly because there is a strong sense of justicein the heart of it.
Considering the currentsocio-political situation: the struggle to oppose to established practices ofinjustice, the thousands of people seeking refuge to find either a shelter or aprison and the particularly dangerous typeof desperate anger that spreads over our country, I cannot think of a tragedymore relevant today than Medea. Euripides’s play- although a quite simple one- exploresevery aspect of human pathos without attempting to condemn or glorify it. Ithas this distinctive tragic quality to present the worst case scenario not as adidactic threat but as an alarm signal. Medea’slanguage carries out an immense task: to passion without permitting it tooverpower the reason of the narrative. This is why Medea always had this powerful and ambivalent impact onaudiences: the spectator might condemn her actions (how can infanticide ever bejustified?) but at the same time they sympathise with her. She is understood.There is something seriously fascinating on how a woman that murders herchildren to avenge her husband became one of the most beloved characters ofmodern theatre. And how people relatedher passage through chaos and death with the one of finding a voice.
For theabove mentioned reasons I would like to suggest Medea as part of your nextseason’s programme. Thesuggestion of Medea as part of PoreiaTheatre’s upcoming season might seem an usual one. I am aware that thereare multiple stagings of the play during the summer festivals of Athens and Epidaurusin outdoor amphitheatres. Why then another staging and why at an indoorstheatre? The answer to that would simply be proximity, minimising the distancebetween the audience and the play.
Locations of performance have significant impact on spectators and siteis a crucial dramaturgical choice as it serves as a map where the sign code ofthe performance will be inscribed on. It is therefore a matter of intention, ofGesture. Staging a tragedy in an indoorstheatre creates a more intimate feeling that the wide space of an outdoors theatredoes not easily permit. ??????(Poreia)’s artistic choices seem to be in accord with this view. Bacchai (2008) and Medea’s adaptation (2016)with an all male cast based on the works of Muller, Pazolini and Anouilh verifythat the theatre attempts to define a new vocabulary for the indoorspresentation of ancient Greek Drama in our country today. The repertoire ofplays presented by the company in recent years (M. Karagatsi’s Big Chimera, H.
Ibsen’s Wild duck, A. Chekhov’s Three Sisters) demonstratesan intention to return to theatrical tradition through a contemporaryworldview. Redefining the classic in order to see where we stand towards it.This turn to nuclear themes of Love, Loss, Death, the Self, the notion of theForeigner, makes me believe that putting onstage the original text ofEuripides’s tragedy with the appropriate re-contextualization constitutes aninsightful and relevant theatrical choice. Interms of how this character can be presented it is important that clear choicesare made concerning on where the production stands towards the heroine.
Throughher long performance history, Medea has been presented as the Maenad, therefugee, the avenger, the Witch. I believe that in this current period, whenthere is a pressing need to redefine what identity means and how it isperceived it is important that the focus shifts on Medea the person. Instead of overemphasizing on one characteristic-it is very tempting to treat her as the Rebel, the femme fatale, theproto-feminist in order to make a point(Medea in Performance)- the multilayered of her psyche and motives should find a way to be expressed. Because inthe light of our reality (and we indeed live in a Godless world deprived ofmagic) Medea is a woman who suffers from severe trauma. Her world has beenshaped on conflict and even the happiest moments of her lifetime bear thestigma of murder. Her character is so complex because she is created on fundamentalantithesis: from lover, wife, mother to betrayedlover, abandoned wife, murderous mother. Her blind faith and devotion is whatfeeds her destructive rage. Medea experiences a passage rite from one edge tothe other.
When deciding to kill her children she says: “I have no land, I have no home, I have noway to escape my terrible fate”. Her character is somehow decreased if she istreated in a one sided way. It is also decreased if she is presented only as awoman desperately in love.
Her love for Jason is a theatrical vehicle thatpermits her transformation. Concerningthe mise en scene of the production, there is particular significance in howthis transformation can be visualized. Lower tones (physicality of speech-everyday costumes and properties), in favour of an epic and imposing style, enablethis transition to be experienced rather than over exposed. I would suggestthat the focus of the play turns on why a certain woman behaves in a certainway and how the breaking point in her story (no matter how wrong orreprehensible it might be) constitutes a moment of truth for the heroine.
Medea’sconsciousness is fragmented, torn between contradicted emotions, life and deathdilemmas. I think that an interestingaspect that could be explored, as a way of working in process with thecharacter or as a final element of the role, is her relation with memory. Thereis a rich and particularly dark back story behind Medea that is crucial for herdecision to avenge not only Jason but everything he represents in an absoluteand irreversible way. Fundamental answers about Medea’s character can be foundin her past and I believe that it is important to discover scenic languages(flashback scenes, video projections, adapted monologues) that will unfold theparallel inner narrative of her memory. Anotherimportant aspect, concerning the indoors staging is how the heroine perceivesher surroundings.
It can be said that Medea, lives in a type of waste land, notset in a particular time and place. She has no ties; she cannot define herselfas a part of it. Corinth for her is nothing but a name, a hostile site thatbears traits of war and uncertainty. The performance should invite the viewerto see the world of Medea through her gaze, to turn her inside out.
Throughoutthe play Medea is presented as a foreigner, an outsider. She is either demonizedor excotisized for her barbaric heritage that in the other characters’ eyesexplains her madness and cruelty (Nowoman in the whole Hellas would have dared so much). But for the biggestpart of the play she seems neither cruel nor irrational2. Medea, that already hasher world shattered in pieces once, when she escaped Colchis with Jason, nowexperiences the ultimate collision of her shelter. This landscape in her eyesmust look not much different than the dystopia that Sarah Kane describes in Blasted.
I believe, a vocabulary of siteshould be selected in order to depict a foreign land through the eyes ofsomeone who stands alone without roots in an environment that feels strange andOther. I would also encourage an attempt to visualize this sentiment of notbelonging. Even the very word “rootless” provides a strong imagery; Medea herselfdescribes women as the most unfortunate sprout (?????????? ?????).There is a big challenge butalso a great opportunity in communicating such a metaphor that captures thefamiliar in an unfamiliar way with contemporary audiences. It is impossible to stage Medea withoutdealing with the problem of infanticide. I would argue that killing her sons isfor Medea a form of suicide, killing the only part of herself3that remains pure andalive. She kills her children to destroy all the bridges with the past and indoing so she punishes her destructive Other, represented in the play by Jason4. The infanticide takes theform of a reversed childbirth with the intensity described by Medea in thebegging of the play:” I’drather stand three times in the front line than bear/One child.
” I wouldrecommend (as in most contemporary productions) that the murder of the childrenis implied. Not because ancient tragedy ethics forbid the representation ofmurder on stage but because the action is better understood if perceived as asacrifice of the Self. In D. Papaioannou’s Medea/2,Medea wears in both her hands two clay puppet dolls that are destroyed as shecrashes them together. The company should work with ideas on how this climax ofthe play can be symbolized or materialized.
What I find particularly interesting indramaturgical terms about Medea is that, as novelist George Chimonas notices, sheis at the same time a dramatis personaand a dramatic mechanism in the play. Medea is the Deus ex machina of her own tragedy. There is no divine solution, noexternal intervention, no prophecy t o be fulfilled. The demand for justicethat is so pressing in the play is not the restoration of divine Order, as inAntigone for example. And this is exactly what makes Medea exceed the naturalmeasure of a character. She becomes her own God.
She is at once a character, aworldview and a mechanism of structure. The visualization of this process, ofMedea actually realizing that she becomes Medea5 is in theatrical terms both very promisingand demanding. The aspect of almost hyper natural potency that lies in her andunfolds throughout the play can become a powerful metaphor that I would suggestto be stripped of its magical elements.
I would also suggest that thisconducting role that Medea holds in the tragedy is realised in the productionwith her moving from a character to a director, an individual surrendered toher faith to an insider that gradually rises in a higher level of consciousnessabove the other roles.Althoughthere are many translations of Medea worth to be mentioned I believe theversion of G. Chimonas is the most suitable for contemporary performance. Evenif it is not the most loyal to the classic, it makes the text sound as if it hasn’taged a single day. There is a particulardifficulty when handling the ancient text with its dense ideas and a languagethat is different in economy than ours.
Itis also crucial that the play is translated as a playtext intended to beperformed and not as a dramatic poem or a literary analysis. Chimonas achievesto bridge the gap of language and deliver a simple and beautifully transcribed(I consider the term more accurate than translated) text that maintains both itstimeless character and poetic qualities. Chimonas’ Medea is written in alanguage that the modern spectator does not speak but can understand and bemoved by. There is a peculiarity in Medea’s text: she is a character thatloves(in fact she is consumed by the intensity of her love) but does not evenspeak one affectionate word throughout the play, with the sole exception to beher words towards her children. (Giorgos Chimonas interview) Her Speech isangry and aggressive. Chimonas’translation finds this crack in Medeas’ words that permits language to revealits true significance. Glimpses of tenderness can be detected behind cruelty.
AsChimonas himself says, in Medea’sintroduction note, one of the primal matters of tragedy is Grief. A type ofdeep existential grief that is for the tragic hero a natural state thatgradually infects the whole play. His translation is in tone, rhythm andvocabulary an expression of this tragic grief.
I consider his translation agreat source to work and experiment with as it unlocks new significance whilelimiting the restrictions of the ancient text. Finally, there is a last issue that I wouldlike to draw attention on. There is a conception about Medea that it is a playthat defines careers (Medea in Performance) It is considered to be a referencepoint for many actresses and a way to prove artistic value and talent.Admittedly, if we look back to the actresses that embodied Medea to this day,from Maria Callas to our own Melina Merkouri, Medea has produced a fair amount of divas throughout the years.Although it takes immense skill to meet the demands of such a role, I wouldsuggest that the production avoids a well expected safe- casting. If the ideawe have of Medea corresponds to a certain image it is a bold dramaturgicalchoice to go beyond it. Poreia has shown similar intention for unfamiliarcasting with the all-male cast of Medea’s 2016 adaptation. 1 2 The Conversation, Medea is as relevant today as it was in Ancient Greece 3 4 5 Medea inPerformance Introduction