REVIEW: Medea Tells Complex Tale with Inaugural Performance at Salem Theatre
SALEM – Medea chooses to take back her life by doing some truly terrible things in the Greek tragedy currently on stage at the new home of Salem Theatre in Shetland Park. Caroline Watson-Felt leads the talented cast in the title role, delving into a complex tale that is seemingly as relevant today as it was when Euripides wrote it more than 2,000 years ago.
Salem Theatre Executive Director Catherine Bertrand turned her directorial attention to the wronged heroine who left her home and birthed two sons in exile. When her husband Jason abandons his family for a new life, Medea faces banishment and separation from her children. She begs for a day’s time in order to secretly exact an atrocious revenge that destroys everything she and her husband cherished.
“Medea was written long ago in a patriarchal society and has survived so long and continues to be told because it is still relevant,” Bertrand said.
“Euripides was bold enough to give women a voice with a story like Medea. He was unique in that he sympathized with the victims and explored their motives and psychology around the action rather than celebrated heroes who didn’t always behave so heroically.”
Bertrand selected this adaptation written by Ben Powers of the National Theatre in London because of his emphasis on Medea’s struggle with the decision to sacrifice her children. She believes it makes her human and sympathetic, rather than just a crazed villain sometimes encountered in our culture. Bertrand calls the company’s performances honest, and believes with honesty came the ability for intensity that is evident the entire play.
“We chose to think about it as very present – almost as though Medea has just, in the past 48 hours, discovered Jason’s betrayal,” Bertrand explains. “In doing this, everything is immediate and urgent.”
The play touches so many themes, developing a complex layering of universal experiences that still leaves audiences asking questions about society then and today. There are issues of xenophobia, women’s rights, grief, and the extremes of love.
Time and time again, Medea is cast as an outsider, revealing a divisiveness and refusal to learn and accept others that is sadly not only seen throughout this story but also throughout our society today.
“Not much has changed unfortunately,” the lead actress said in an interview following opening night. “Our culture works so hard to ignore or not have to address or face so many of these issues still.”
We first hear Caroline offstage as Medea howls and shrieks upon learning of Jason’s abandonment in favor of a new Corinthian princess. The portrait that emerges leaves the audience both sympathizing and questioning the character, yet it is clear that Medea was a powerful female persona not common to texts of the time. Her marriage to Jason is even referred to as “a partnership”, powerful words for a world where she ultimately finds herself at the mercy of the authoritative men surrounding her.
“Medea is a woman suffering a set of incredible losses both present and past,” Caroline explained. “She’s in a desperate state and she is terrified for herself and her children. She is at her rock bottom, but from here, she rediscovers her own power; her former courage, and magic, and she reclaims her own identity and her own life.”
“She gave up quite literally every part of herself for Jason,” Caroline added. “She killed her brother and abandoned her father, she abandoned her homeland and her people, and she gave up her independence and calling as a priestess to marry Jason, follow him, help him, and have his babies.”
Despite being relative strangers, Caroline and Jay Connolly, who plays opposite as Jason, quickly developed a working relationship that allowed them to explore and create an intimacy onstage that is essential to capturing the love and the hate woven between the two characters.
“It’s a strong thing for an ancient Greek writer to have written something like this,” Jay said about the play. “It gives power to a group of individuals who were not considered powerful. To take away something like two sons that would carry on a lineage is unconceivable at that time.”
Connolly, a recent Salem State University graduate, is excited to make his debut with Salem Theatre in such an important production that also serves as the inauguration of the company’s new space.
“I’m completely honored to be a part of the opening of the new theatre,” Connolly gushed. “I love acting because I love telling a story and becoming another person. I like getting the chance to inspire somebody else to become an artist and venture forward and truly be part of something that you wouldn’t mind sleeping on someone else’s couch the rest of your life for.”
The production’s staging is quite simple with bare scaffolding that is able to adapt and be used by the cast throughout the show no matter the setting. Most scenes include just two or three actors that offers a truly clean and strong sense of storytelling that harkens back to the ancient Greek theatre and oral tradition from which the script is derived. There are also stylized moments with music and lighting that induce Medea’s rage or her magic and that dilute the dense dialogue required of the lead roles.
The performance was the inaugural show for the new Salem Theatre space at Shetland Park on Congress Street. It is physically larger with double the space compared to their last location. It will allow the company to create a different type of world and offer more diverse programming with more seats.
“The new space offers us the opportunity to stage many more and varied productions than our tiny stage at Lafayette St. afforded,” said President Norene Gachignard of the Salem Theatre Board of Directors. “Going forward, expect to see continuing great theatre with expanded offerings like musicals and education programming as well as the promising options of many other types of performances on our stage.
“We’re also very excited about how many other creative businesses are housed in Shetland Park,” added Kylie Sullivan, Vice-President of the Board of Directors, “and we’re looking forward to being good neighbors.”
Medea features Caroline Watson-Felt of Salem as Medea and Jay Connolly of Peabody as Jason as well as Kris Burke of Beverly as the Nurse, Rob Cope of Somerville as Kreon, Nick Osborne of Roxbury as Aegeus, Catherine Benjamin of Salem as Jason’s Attendant, Katie Donovan of Lynnfield as the Chorus Leader. The Chorus includes Salem residents Lia Parisi, Cailin McCormack, Hannah Wagner, Liz Jelinek, Chelsea Borden, and Diana Dunlap. The lighting is by Corey Wittenmore of Salem with costumes by Mallory Curtin and Kate Devorak of Salem, a set by Colin Colford of Salem, and make-Up by Charlie Kellog. Stage Management and Set by Ravenne Rose of Saugus.
When? March 12 to March 26, 2016; Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 3PM. Saturdays will offer an additional performance at 2PM
Where? Salem Theatre, Shetland Park, 35 Congress Street, 3rd Floor
Cost? Tickets are $10-$25 online and $10-$30 at the door and are available online through www.salemtheatre.com.
More About the Salem Theatre Company
Salem Theatre Company supports and transforms the community by giving voice to narratives that challenge, encourage, and incite its audiences and offer the shared human experience of creative and honest storytelling. STC aims to serve the creative needs of Salem’s emerging urban center through selecting diverse works that are open and available to all audiences.