I have been neglectful of late of blogging. Trust some good plays, however, to bring me back in. I saw two last week--each was quite different, yet both were stunning in their own way. The first was Southwest Shakespeare's Mojada: a Medea in Los Angeles, directed by Micah Espinosa and performed once again at the wonderfully small venue at Taliesin West.
As you can tell from the title, the play is based on the Greek play Medea but it is set instead in LA. The transition is about as flawless as can be, which highlights the universality of the themes in the original play. Just because the story was set in a specific time and place with specific politics and social structures does not mean that all of those don't have similar reflections at any point in history. People are still people no matter the year. And perhaps Greek plays are especially good for adapting to new settings. Translations are already so different from the original language that translators often already modernize the language. (I remember, for instance, reading Lysistrata and seeing the explanation that a certain group of characters had been given Southern accents in the translation in order to portray to modern readers the effect of their different accents within the play.) So why not take things a step further?
Structurally, they did also move some of the action onto the stage and change a little of the timing. Greek plays are all about things taking place off stage. Medea is largely composed of characters talking about what has happened or what will happen. So with this play, they kept the monologue or long dialogue style but also spread the action around more. And they kept the ending secret so that it comes more as a shock to views who might not know the Greek play's plot.
That difference in how they approached "the big thing that happens at the end" is reflective of what is perhaps the biggest change in this adaptation. Greek Medea is a woman who has been wronged and expresses great emotion over how she has been treated; she's a woman who finds ultimate vengeance against her wrongdoers. Modern Medea likewise has been wronged, but she is portrayed a little differently. She starts off more passive and then becomes enraged, like she has finally passed her breaking point and has lost her mind to pain so that all she can do is lash out. So what we end up seeing is Medea's trauma. Her vengeance takes on a greater emphasis on pain and tragedy. What has happened to Medea is tragedy--and what she does as a result of this tragedy is likewise tragedy.
I can't mention this production without also taking a moment to appreciate Greta Skelly's moving performance as Tita, the nurse/maid. Her character combines various roles from the Greek play including the Chorus. So while Medea is the title character, Tita is the audience's guide both to the facts of what is happening and to the emotions we are meant to feel. She weeps for the tragedy that happens--but in her desire to not see injustice, she cannot support Medea's final actions. So when we see what trauma can cause a person to do, we don't dwell on our delight to see wrongdoers get their just deserts. Rather, we simply weep that tragedy exists.