Despite inconsistent tone, Red House’s Medea features strong performances

"Medea" tells the classic Euripides tale of a woman scorned.

“Medea” tells the classic Euripides tale of a woman scorned.

Who: The RedHouse Arts Center

Where: 201 S. West Street Syracuse, NY 13202

When: Oct. 29 – Nov. 7

Euripides’ “Medea” opened at The Red House Arts Center on Thursday, Oct. 29. The Diane Arnson Svarlien translated play delivers an hour and 35 minutes of unending hurt, betrayal and revenge.

But, “Medea” has a facelift this time. Instead of being set in an ancient Greek city far away, when it is traditionally set, this version takes place in the 1950s.

This Medea, played wonderfully by Joan Anderson, bemoans her fate and plots her revenge in a white dress, pearls and a headband that restricts up-flipped curls.

Her beloved Jason (Adam Perabo) spews his rage at Medea’s ungratefulness in a well-cut suit, adorned with side-parted, slicked down hair.

Yet, the contrast between the words and costume appear to be difficult for the cast to perform as much as it is for the audience to believe.

The tone is misguided from the start of the play when the nurse (Heather McNeil) informs the audience of the grief that Medea has been carrying since her husband left her for another woman. McNeil is painfully sorrowful, as she demands the audience to listen to her portentous concern about the fate of her mistress. It is only her voice that can be heard against the backdrop of the doom that is ever-present in the air.

Medea 2

In a twist on the Ancient Greek Tragedy, The Redhouse set “Medea” in the 1950s.

Even though the audience has been skillfully told a story within a story, that stronghold of attention is abruptly interrupted by the children’s tutor (Jason Timothy). His tone ping-pongs between grabbing the 1950s chipper, fast talk to a stage actor reciting a classic. His wavering between speaking a classic language and speaking the language of the 1950s is a theme that occurs throughout most of the play.

But, that’s not to say that there aren’t some great thespians in “Medea.” Anderson is the clear star of the show, not just because of the nature of her role in itself, but in the way that she catches the eye on stage and it can’t help but want to watch her red lips sing Medea’s hurt and murder plots. Her delivery is the most believable and her killer execution of her character is so apparent until she is able to offer laughs laced with commentary in which the audience can delight.

The play’s chorus adds a quirky, almost creepy nuance to the performance. These women also wear flared dresses with pearls and heels, but their papier-mâché-like masks cover the women singing about Medea’s perils. While it looks like the mask from “Saw” received a makeover to look like a 1950s housewife, the novelty of the chorus’ stomping around and chanting become stale around the fourth ditty. But, that is also a common complaint of Euripides’ plays.

The Redhouse presentation of Medea undoubtedly has some tone wrinkles to smooth out, but that’s not a reason to miss a night at the theatre.

Medea is a classic tale of human emotion, even the darker, inhumane pieces. Plus, it’s hard to pass up on a story about why it’s never a good idea to scorn a woman.

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