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Hedgerow Theatre's Medea demonstrates the effectiveness of artistic director Jared Reed's Core Company Projects series. He's committed to producing nine plays over three seasons featuring a fine acting quartet: Adam Altman, Jessica DalCanton, Jennifer Summerfield, and himself. Though their The Importance of Being Earnest was a poor fit, Medea showcases the troupe in director Megan Slater's smart, effective production.
Slater doesn't update Euripides's drama, "freely adapted" by Robinson Jeffers. His script bridges the 2,400 years since the play's premiere without changing its substance or tone. Slater likewise eschews commentary, allowing us to make contemporary connections.
Hell hath no fury...
Summerfield is simply brilliant in the title role, overcoming its many challenges. The first few minutes provide all the backstory, so when she enters, we already know her husband Jason (Reed) has dumped her for the daughter of Corinth's King Creon (John Lopes). She essentially starts at 11 (on a 10-point scale), the intensity of her outrage growing from there as she plots terrible revenge.
The production around Summerfield is unified and focused. Sara Outing's set employs the old grist mill's three-story craggy stone back wall to great effect and provides a stately curved staircase framed by curtains. Lighting designer Andrea Rumble-Moore adds striking colors and eerie projections. Ariel Wang's costumes suggest Greece but have a timeless feel; this is no toga party. Lucas Fendlay provides atmospheric live accompaniment and some powerful echo effects.
Slater — a veteran actor making her directing debut — uses all with confidence and clarity, staging the play with simple, bold stage pictures. Actors move with formal restraint and without modern extraneous gestures and quirks, so that every moment feels deliberate and meaningful.
A woman's choice
DalCanton leads a women's chorus of Minou Pourshariati, Julianne Schuab, and Susan Wefel. Altman, Owen Corey, and Christopher Water excel in supporting roles, and Christopher and Andrea Muñoz play Medea and Jason's children.
Nevertheless, the play sinks or soars with Medea, and I've never seen Summerfield more emotionally raw and vocally commanding without sacrificing her trademark sincerity and nuance. That she sometimes seems a little Sunset Boulevard-era Gloria Swanson comes with the territory; few roles require such grand commitment.
Reed's Jason is an appropriately exasperating foil, mansplaining why Medea should accept his arrangement with a younger, more politically connected wife. "You had to go mad with jealousy," he scolds, "and talk yourself into exile." Anyone who's noticed leaders acting out of greed instead of honoring their stated values or promises will recognize Jason.
Creon's cruel dismissal of Medea — "I want my hands washed of this business" — feels contemporary, no winking emphasis required.
"It's a bitter thing to be a woman," Medea comments ruefully, a line that echoes through the centuries.
Though most know the 90-minute play's bloody outcome, this Medea provides suspense as our sympathies clash. We empathize with Medea's quest for revenge while recoiling at her actions. The lesson, then and now, is that maligned and mistreated women won't meekly accept degradation forever. Push them too far, and they'll respond with overwhelming righteous force. Heed it.
What, When, Where
Medea. By Euripides, freely adapted by Robinson Jeffers, Megan Slater directed. Through November 11, 2018, at the Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. (610) 565-4211 or hedgerowtheatre.org.
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