MEDEA a didactic threat but as an alarm

 

MEDEA

Arthur
Miller wrote in his 1949 article Tragedy and the Common Man: the tragic feeling
is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay
down his life to secure his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet,
Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting
to gain his “rightful” position in his society.1 Tragedies consist these border texts that exceed the quotidian
by putting on stage something greater. They speak about humans but what is actually
at stake in tragedy is a higher concept flowing from a superior principle.  This is why although the world of tragedy is
swept by disaster it provides a lens to look both at society and ourselves (if
we could separate one from the other) through a different lens. Partly because
of the temporal distance and partly because there is a strong sense of justice
in the heart of it.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

Considering the current
socio-political situation: the struggle to oppose to established practices of
injustice, the thousands of people seeking refuge to find either a shelter or a
prison and the particularly dangerous type
of desperate anger that spreads over our country, I cannot think of a tragedy
more relevant today than Medea. Euripides’s play- although a quite simple one- explores
every aspect of human pathos without attempting to condemn or glorify it. It
has this distinctive tragic quality to present the worst case scenario not as a
didactic threat but as an alarm signal.  Medea’s
language carries out an immense task: to passion without permitting it to
overpower the reason of the narrative. 
This is why Medea always had this powerful and ambivalent impact on
audiences: the spectator might condemn her actions (how can infanticide ever be
justified?) but at the same time they sympathise with her. She is understood.
There is something seriously fascinating on how a woman that murders her
children to avenge her husband became one of the most beloved characters of
modern theatre.  And how people related
her passage through chaos and death with the one of finding a voice. For the
above mentioned reasons I would like to suggest Medea as part of your next
season’s programme.

The
suggestion of Medea as part of Poreia
Theatre’s upcoming season might seem an usual one. I am aware that there
are multiple stagings of the play during the summer festivals of Athens and Epidaurus
in outdoor amphitheatres. Why then another staging and why at an indoors
theatre? The answer to that would simply be proximity, minimising the distance
between the audience and the play. 
Locations of performance have significant impact on spectators and site
is a crucial dramaturgical choice as it serves as a map where the sign code of
the performance will be inscribed on. It is therefore a matter of intention, of
Gesture.  Staging a tragedy in an indoors
theatre creates a more intimate feeling that the wide space of an outdoors theatre
does 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 verify
that the theatre attempts to define a new vocabulary for the indoors
presentation of ancient Greek Drama in our country today. The repertoire of
plays presented by the company in recent years (M. Karagatsi’s Big Chimera, H. Ibsen’s Wild duck, A. Chekhov’s Three Sisters) demonstrates
an intention to return to theatrical tradition through a contemporary
worldview. 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 the
Foreigner, makes me believe that putting onstage the original text of
Euripides’s tragedy with the appropriate re-contextualization constitutes an
insightful and relevant theatrical choice.

In
terms of how this character can be presented it is important that clear choices
are made concerning on where the production stands towards the heroine. Through
her long performance history, Medea has been presented as the Maenad, the
refugee, the avenger, the Witch. I believe that in this current period, when
there is a pressing need to redefine what identity means and how it is
perceived 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, the
proto-feminist in order to make a point(Medea in Performance)- the multi
layered of her psyche and motives should find a way to be expressed. Because in
the light of our reality (and we indeed live in a Godless world deprived of
magic) Medea is a woman who suffers from severe trauma. Her world has been
shaped on conflict and even the happiest moments of her lifetime bear the
stigma of murder. Her character is so complex because she is created on fundamental
antithesis:  from lover, wife, mother to betrayed
lover, abandoned wife, murderous mother. Her blind faith and devotion is what
feeds her destructive rage. Medea experiences a passage rite from one edge to
the other. When deciding to kill her children she says:  “I have no land, I have no home, I have no
way to escape my terrible fate”. Her character is somehow decreased if she is
treated in a one sided way. It is also decreased if she is presented only as a
woman desperately in love. Her love for Jason is a theatrical vehicle that
permits her transformation.

Concerning
the mise en scene of the production, there is particular significance in how
this transformation can be visualized. Lower tones (physicality of speech-
everyday costumes and properties), in favour of an epic and imposing style, enable
this transition to be experienced rather than over exposed. I would suggest
that the focus of the play turns on why a certain woman behaves in a certain
way and how the breaking point in her story (no matter how wrong or
reprehensible it might be) constitutes a moment of truth for the heroine. Medea’s
consciousness is fragmented, torn between contradicted emotions, life and death
dilemmas.  I think that an interesting
aspect that could be explored, as a way of working in process with the
character or as a final element of the role, is her relation with memory. There
is a rich and particularly dark back story behind Medea that is crucial for her
decision to avenge not only Jason but everything he represents in an absolute
and irreversible way. Fundamental answers about Medea’s character can be found
in her past and I believe that it is important to discover scenic languages
(flashback scenes, video projections, adapted monologues) that will unfold the
parallel inner narrative of her memory.  

Another
important aspect, concerning the indoors staging is how the heroine perceives
her surroundings. It can be said that Medea, lives in a type of waste land, not
set in a particular time and place. She has no ties; she cannot define herself
as a part of it. Corinth for her is nothing but a name, a hostile site that
bears traits of war and uncertainty. The performance should invite the viewer
to see the world of Medea through her gaze, to turn her inside out. Throughout
the play Medea is presented as a foreigner, an outsider. She is either demonized
or excotisized for her barbaric heritage that in the other characters’ eyes
explains her madness and cruelty (No
woman in the whole Hellas would have dared so much). But for the biggest
part of the play she seems neither cruel nor irrational2. Medea, that already has
her world shattered in pieces once, when she escaped Colchis with Jason, now
experiences the ultimate collision of her shelter. This landscape in her eyes
must look not much different than the dystopia that Sarah Kane describes in Blasted. I believe, a vocabulary of site
should be selected in order to depict a foreign land through the eyes of
someone who stands alone without roots in an environment that feels strange and
Other. I would also encourage an attempt to visualize this sentiment of not
belonging. Even the very word “rootless” provides a strong imagery; Medea herself
describes women as the most unfortunate sprout (?????????? ?????).There is a big challenge but
also a great opportunity in communicating such a metaphor that captures the
familiar in an unfamiliar way with contemporary audiences.

It is impossible to stage Medea without
dealing with the problem of infanticide. I would argue that killing her sons is
for Medea a form of suicide, killing the only part of herself3that remains pure and
alive. She kills her children to destroy all the bridges with the past and in
doing so she punishes her destructive Other, represented in the play by Jason4. The infanticide takes the
form of a reversed childbirth with the intensity described by Medea in the
begging of the play:” I’d
rather stand three times in the front line than bear/One child.” I would
recommend (as in most contemporary productions) that the murder of the children
is implied. Not because ancient tragedy ethics forbid the representation of
murder on stage but because the action is better understood if perceived as a
sacrifice of the Self. In D. Papaioannou’s Medea/2,
Medea wears in both her hands two clay puppet dolls that are destroyed as she
crashes them together. The company should work with ideas on how this climax of
the play can be symbolized or materialized.

 What I find particularly interesting in
dramaturgical terms about Medea is that, as novelist George Chimonas notices, she
is at the same time a dramatis persona
and a dramatic mechanism in the play. Medea is the Deus ex machina of her own tragedy. There is no divine solution, no
external intervention, no prophecy t o be fulfilled. The demand for justice
that is so pressing in the play is not the restoration of divine Order, as in
Antigone for example. And this is exactly what makes Medea exceed the natural
measure of a character. She becomes her own God. She is at once a character, a
worldview and a mechanism of structure. The visualization of this process, of
Medea actually realizing that she becomes Medea5  is in theatrical terms both very promising
and demanding. The aspect of almost hyper natural potency that lies in her and
unfolds throughout the play can become a powerful metaphor that I would suggest
to be stripped of its magical elements. I would also suggest that this
conducting role that Medea holds in the tragedy is realised in the production
with her moving from a character to a director, an individual surrendered to
her faith to an insider that gradually rises in a higher level of consciousness
above the other roles.

Although
there are many translations of Medea worth to be mentioned I believe the
version of G. Chimonas is the most suitable for contemporary performance. Even
if it is not the most loyal to the classic, it makes the text sound as if it hasn’t
aged a single day.  There is a particular
difficulty when handling the ancient text with its dense ideas and a language
that is different in economy than ours.  It
is also crucial that the play is translated as a playtext intended to be
performed and not as a dramatic poem or a literary analysis. Chimonas achieves
to bridge the gap of language and deliver a simple and beautifully transcribed
(I consider the term more accurate than translated) text that maintains both its
timeless character and poetic qualities. Chimonas’ Medea is written in a
language that the modern spectator does not speak but can understand and be
moved by. There is a peculiarity in Medea’s text: she is a character that
loves(in fact she is consumed by the intensity of her love) but does not even
speak one affectionate word throughout the play, with the sole exception to be
her words towards her children. (Giorgos Chimonas interview) Her Speech is
angry and aggressive.  Chimonas’
translation finds this crack in Medeas’ words that permits language to reveal
its true significance. Glimpses of tenderness can be detected behind cruelty. As
Chimonas himself says, in Medea’s
introduction note, one of the primal matters of tragedy is Grief. A type of
deep existential grief that is for the tragic hero a natural state that
gradually infects the whole play. His translation is in tone, rhythm and
vocabulary an expression of this tragic grief. I consider his translation a
great source to work and experiment with as it unlocks new significance while
limiting the restrictions of the ancient text.

 Finally, there is a last issue that I would
like to draw attention on. There is a conception about Medea that it is a play
that defines careers (Medea in Performance) It is considered to be a reference
point 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 would
suggest that the production avoids a well expected safe- casting. If the idea
we have of Medea corresponds to a certain image it is a bold dramaturgical
choice to go beyond it. Poreia has shown similar intention for unfamiliar
casting 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 in
Performance Introduction