Medea -- Theater Review

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In 90 minutes of superb theater, Los Angeles-based Croatian director Lenka Udovicki and her team put on a production of Euripides "Medea" that knocks the stuffing out of the old tragedy.

In the title role, Annette Bening thrashes about in extravagant outbursts of violent anger and tear-drenched remorse. She moves and dances beautifully, like the Russian poet Sergey Yesenin morphed with his tragic lover Isadora Duncan. But despite her enormous vulnerability, she remains ambiguous and remote, partially because of the highly stylized production, but also because Bening magically slips behind the veil of reality when she wants to hide her most inner motives; at those moments she not only shows true genius but illuminates Medea for 21st century L.A. as well. In fact, her whole sense of being and presence are an impressive match to Euripides' bold blueprint and marble lines.

Angus Macfadyen (Robert Bruce in "Braveheart") is a terrific Jason. Playing against type, heavy on the brutal side, works totally in the context of what Udovicki is saying about what she considers a fierce battle between the sexes, with endless references to the besotted cowardice of men and the jealousy-drenched fury of women. Of course, one can only fully comprehend what Euripides had in mind when the character of Jason is at the same level as that of Medea.

Mary Lou Rosato is wonderful as a Corinthian woman, a solitary, homeless Norn creeping about the stage, peeking over to see what's going on, and letting the audience in on the back stories. The chorus of 12 young girls and teenage women shows a virtuoso fluidity in moving about the stage, echoing Medea's outward hopes and fears.
The Freud Playhouse's erratic miking (at times it is impossible to understand what is being said) is for once an added plus, adding to the impression of a high-tech, mixed-media experience being created without the use of high tech. Instead, this production works because of the equal part played by all its component parts: the script, the colorful noises of the onstage world-music ensemble, the singing of the chorus, the brilliant set design (four-story walls and a bare, sand-covered stage) that reminds us how insignificant we as mortals are, and the costumes that range from royal ermine robes to leather cat outfits.

As a final and fitting touch of existentialist angst and perhaps with some deeper secret meaning, after Macfadyen takes his bow, looking as exhausted as Jason must have been himself, Bening skips onto stage with the happiest of smiles, as if she had just been at a tea party with Mary Poppins.

Venue: Freud Playhouse, UCLA, Westwood (Through Oct. 18)
Cast: Annette Bening, Angus Macfadyen, Daniel Davis, Mary Lou Rosato, Hugo Armstrong
Playwright: Euripides; translated by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael
Director: Lenka Udovicki
Movement director: Mladen Vasari
Choreographer: Stasa Zurovac
Set designer: Richard Hoover
Costume designer: Bjanka Adzic Ursulov
Lighting designer: Lap-Chi Chu
Sound designer: John Coleman
Composers: Pirayeh Pourafar and Houman Pourmehdi in collaboration with Nigel Osborne