at the Greenview Arts Center

Palookaville’s manifesto declares them to be “artists hell-bent on putting forth a theatre for the common man.” This production makes Robinson Jeffers’s adaptation of Euripides’ Medea seem common enough, but in ways perhaps unforeseen by the company.

The story in itself has plenty of tabloid potential: after committing numerous occult crimes for the love of Jason, Medea discovers that her ambitious spouse is to marry the young and beautiful princess of Corinth. The bride’s father, Creon, announces his intention to banish the declasse first wife and her children, but he’s moved by Medea’s plea to allow them one day in which to pack their belongings. In that time Medea uses her magical powers to enact a terrible revenge on her fickle lover and anyone abetting his ingratitude.

Sympathy comes slow for any human being willing to commit multiple murders out of wounded vanity. And the empathy we must feel for Medea becomes even more problematic when the role is as miscast as it is in this production. The matronly Mary Margaret Barry is garbed in what appears to be an unpressed satin tent that makes her look mountainous next to her servant, in full Flemish-nun regalia, and the three flyweight chorus women in chic jumpsuits grouped prettily around her at all times. Though not without talent and skill, Barry has apparently been instructed by director Warren Sampson Jr. to play her character at peak vocal and emotional intensity from her very first entrance. Not only does this thwart any intellectual understanding we may have of the wrongs done to the character, it also dilutes the power of Medea’s wrath by leaving the actress no room in which to build the tension. Unalleviated fury is reduced to pique, rage to mere temper, and a proud and passionate virago overcome with pain and anger is diminished to a psychopathic ogress in the throes of a grotesque childish tantrum.

In a play so centered on one character there is little the other actors can do to redeem their roles, particularly since in Sampson’s staging Medea frequently uses her superior size and brawn to bully the uniformly wimpish males–even Aegeus, her ally and protector, has his crotch grasped in a death grip to ensure his cooperation. Brian Beach attempts to introduce some variety into his interpretation of Jason by starting quietly, the better to show his later horror, but his final anguish is lost in the welter of distress being produced on every side by other characters. The source of all this agony is difficult to discern, what with one messenger shrieking his unhappy news and the other sobbing hers. And Medea’s final atrocity–the knifing of her two children and the torching of the house–is rendered abstractly, with the two boys standing motionless and unbloodied in a wash of red-filtered light, a strangely restrained ending for a production whose tone has prepared us for a graphic, grisly bloodbath.

The purpose of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to inspire pity and fear. The clearest emotion evoked by this misguided Medea, however, is a fascinated revulsion. If Amy Fisher had been just a little older, the miniseries might have looked like this production.