Friday, April 15, 2016

Staging Medea's Chorus

I just saw the Argus Eyes production of Medea at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City. Staging a Greek chorus in a modern-dress production can often be a challenge, but director Mason Beggs found some interesting ways to make it work.

Argus Eyes used the new Robin Robertson translation, which was first published in 2008. The opening passage, given by Euripides to the nurse, instead came over the loud speaker:

                    If only it had never happened like this.
                    If the Argo hadn't opened its sails and flown
                    to Colchis through the Clashing Rocks.
                    If the pines were still standing
                    in the glens of Mount Pelion,
                    not cut and turned 
                    to oars for the Argonauts.
                    If Pelias the king hadn't sent those heroes
                    off to do his bidding, to cross the sea
                    and steal the Golden Fleece.
                    It would all be different. Not as it is.

Periodically, the production returns to the loudspeaker device, which makes sense, as audiences today are more familiar with voiceovers in movies than with soliloquies addressed on stage to an audience.

This first passage, however, is not a from the chorus. The choral lines, if I am not mistaken, were divided among characters listed in the program as "Maid" and "Handmaiden" and--most interestingly--Agathe.

Agathe? I don't remember a character with that name in Medea. But Beggs creates a nosey neighbor who comes over bearing cupcakes and scant comfort for Medea. Why she is named Agathe, I'm not sure, but the device works.

Of course, the chorus in Euripides is usually more peripheral than it is in Aeschylus or Sophocles. The star of this play is clearly Medea, as comes through in Robertson's translation. In one passage, Medea eloquently laments:

                    Of all living, sentient creatures,
                    women are the most unfortunate.
                    We must save and raise a dowry;
                    then the man agrees to marry us
                    becomes master of our bodies:
                    a second burden greater than the first.
                    Loss and insult: that is all we have.

If you'd like to see this production, you have two more chances: Saturday at 2:00 and then again at 7:00 at the Roy Irving Theatre at Saint Peter's University.