Completed as a reviewing assignment while studying away at the Trinity/La MaMa Performing Arts Program in New York City in 2002
Fiona Shaw headlined the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s presentation of Euripides’ Medea on Wednesday October 2nd, 2002. Shaw is an inestimably talented performer, and executed the role flawlessly – according to the direction the show took. The original text of Medea is heavily focussed on the plight of women in a patriarchal society, in which they have no recourse when wronged and no place to inhabit where they can be anything but the wives of their husbands and the mothers to their children. This production dealt very directly with this, where in essence, Medea’s enemies are men, and her allies and confidantes are women. Perhaps it is not coincidental that, as much as it pains her to do it, it is her two male children that she kills.
What is perhaps problematic about the production is that it seems to take the easy way out in its portrayal of Medea, in resorting to presenting her as the woman scorned and driven mad by desire and betrayal. While the murder scene of her children is exquisitely and hauntingly done – with the entire set throbbing purple and white as an awful deep mechanical groan sounds and a stream of blood splatters across the immaculate white of her home’s wall – and indisputably conveys the instability of Medea as she murders her progeny, the ending is much less dramatic and successful. Contrary to the original text where her father then Sun (changed to “grandfather” in this production) rescues her at the end in grand dramatic fashion, it instead ends with Medea standing in the middle of dipping pool centre stage, flinging drops of water at the collapsed Jason who is upstage left. It is a weak ending, with an undertone that the strength of this woman – and women in general – is really flimsy and unsubstantial.
In addition to this, Euripides also emphasises Medea’s identity as a cultural other, as a sorceress and demi-goddess from Colchis, now married to a Greek and living in his lands. His text repeats endlessly that she has wronged her father and is now banished from her native land, and feeling alone and helpless and betrayed on foreign unfriendly soil. Indeed, her solace is that she can escape with her friend Aegeus to Athens. What is interesting is that she and Aegeus are supposed to be the cultural others, ethnically and racially different from the Corinthians. One might expect this to come across somehow in the casting or performance of the role. All but two (one Chorus woman and Aegeus) of the cast are white. Yet, though Aegeus is visually marked as a cultural other by his being black, there is nothing – not in manner of speech, accent, or appearance – which sets Medea apart from the rest. So while the text suggests that ethnic and cultural identity are important in the play, the production seems to all but ignore it. This seems strange given how timely the idea of the plight of immigrants in “first world” countries is today, with African, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants being barred from entering North America and Europe, and being harassed and blacklisted when already residing there. The production’s oversight of this was disappointing.