Whether you know all the gory details or not…
...you probably know enough about the ancient tale of Medea to think twice before you let her babysit your kids.
Euripides had heard something about her too.
Inspired by the Greek myth of Medea and Jason, his play, Medea, was first performed in 431 BC at the The Dinoysia Festival in Athens. The festival was held annually in honor of the Greek god of theatre and wine, Dionysus. In the Dionysia, three playwrights competed against each other every year, resulting in a tetralogy of tragedies and one satyr play (it wasn’t until 487 b.c. that they allowed comedies into the Festival).
In 431 b.c. the plays that were performed alongside Euripides' Medea were Philocretes by Sophocles (Euripides main rival) and Dictys by Euphrorion (the son of the famous playwright, Aeschylus), as well as the satyr play, Theristai.
Euripides placed last.
However, 2,400 years later, Euripides is having the last laugh. His “losing play” has remained the most frequently performed, and arguably definitive Greek tragedy throughout the 20th century.
Indeed. The play has been adapted countless times – from plays, to ballets, to operas- and most recently by Titan Theatre Company.
The World Premier of this new take on an ancient tale, adapted by Nefeli Vasiliadou and Artistic Director Lenny Banovez, is currently running at The Queens Theatre through March 4th.
Vasiliadou translated the play from the original Greek, and Banovez drew on many previous adaptations to guide and shape the script. The result is a truly unique telling of the ancient tale, which provides a deep, perilous, and delicious playground for any actor.
And over the past 2,400 years, actresses all over the world have skinned their theatrical elbows and knees on that playground, grappling with the immense challenge of taking on Medea herself. A herculean task of Greek Drama proportions. How do you even begin?
So I asked Leah Gabriel, who is currently playing Medea in Titan's production just that: how do you even begin?
Leah Gabriel (LG): Well, first I panicked. Then I started talking to my wise friends and they said cool things like 'the Greeks give you permission', and 'this will be many people's first Medea so you get to create it for them' and 'she does terrible things, but it's the audience who have to deal with how they feel about that'.
Next I just started working, learned some chunks of text (from a different translation, as our script was still being developed - which ended up being very helpful, having similar but different text to explore) and let myself roll around inside it for a while. It was scary. Medea does not hold back.
Next I went home to Australia for 2 months and spent time with my family. During that time I let the work I'd done settle a bit, and at some point said to myself 'you can be afraid all you want, and you might never feel ready, so all you can do is begin.' When I arrived back in NYC, that's exactly what I did.
Titan Theatre Company (TTC): Now that you’ve been working on the play for awhile… do you think that Medea is the hero or the villain of this play?
LG: HA! Well, I think she's a hero in many ways, she stands up and cries out against the betrayal she has suffered. From her perspective, she has one goal, and does whatever it takes to achieve it, and does so knowing she will ultimately pay the greatest price herself. She is relentless and unflinching and willing to sacrifice everything...I have to admire that in her.
We live by different rules and moral codes than she does. So I think her actions make her a villain, but her drive and fearlessness make her a hero.
TTC: What has it been like working on a new translation of such an ancient play?
LG: Not as difficult as I'd anticipated. It is not always the case with adaptations, but in this instance, being able to read multiple versions is a luxury really, it adds more layers to my understanding of the text.
TTC: How do you think this adaptation is different from others that you've read or seen?
LG: In Titan’s adaptation, Jason is the only male.
Which certainly changes the dynamic, since in this adaptation we lose the element of Medea as the lone female grappling to regain power in a male dominated world.
But she still gets boots in her face at every turn. When you’re on the receiving end, it doesn't matter who's delivering the kick, it hurts just the same. And Medea is still an outsider, a warrior woman from a distant savage land, and in this version pitted against powerful women from a civilized society. So the power dynamic still exists. I will be very interested to see how audiences respond to this shift in circumstances.
This adaptation has also removed almost all reference to Medea being descended from the gods, some of the references to her abilities with dark magic and her departure at the end of the play in her dragon chariot! I think this helps make the play more palatable for modern audiences, and pares it right back to the most human parts of the story. It also means we can't dismiss her actions as easily - though she is descended from gods, she feels human pain as acutely as we do and will suffer as much as Jason will.
TTC: What in your past experience has prepared you for this role?
LG: I did a play two years ago called The Good Girl where I played a woman who lived in a restrictive society and allowed herself to be abused in order to gain freedom from her situation. She had to steel herself in order to survive. I think that was a pretty good warm up for this!
I am also forever grateful for my training at Circle in the Square Theatre School and especially for my acting teachers Alan Langdon and Jacqueline Brookes. I often go back to what they taught me, and would simply not have the tools to tackle this if it weren't for them.
TTC: You’ve mentioned that you went home to Australia. And also noted that Medea is an “outsider… from a distant land.” Yourself, as a native Australian having immigrated to the United States -- do you feel any connection to Medea's situation?
LG: I do feel a connection with Medea in this way! I understand what it's like to be very far away from family. When hard times hit, you can feel completely alone. Then you suddenly… you learn how resilient you actually are!
In addition to Gabriel, Titan's Medea features Broadway Veteran Ellen Fiske as The Nurse, Titan Resident Company members Tristan Colton as Jason and Alyssa Van Gorder as Aegeus, and Titan Journeymen Members Lindsay Nance as Glauce, Rachel Schmeling as The Nanny, and Guest Artist Molly Thomas as Creon. Jake Lesh, Sara Ornelas, and Analiese Puzon understudy.
For tickets and more information at this limited run visit http://www.titantheatrecompany.com/