Directed by Janet Howe
Presented by (re)discover theatre
Playing at The Second Stage
Epic ambitions but with a propensity to wander…
Without a doubt, (re)discover theatre’s Jason and (Medea)—adapted by company member Jessica Shoemaker from the original myth—sprawls forward with suitably epic ambitions. Jason and (Medea) traces the legend of the Greek hero Jason (Alex Thompson) and his sorceress wife Medea (Bridget Schreiber) from their tragic love’s earliest flowerings in Medea’s homeland of Colchis, to their domestic un-bliss aboard the infamous Argo, and finally, to Jason’s ultimate betrayal, in which he callously casts Medea aside for an airy Princess of Corinth.
Shoemaker’s efforts to shake off the dust of centuries to arrive at something freshly inspired and immediate are admittedly compelling. Replacing a traditional Homeric solemnity for the workaday back-and-forth of everyday speech, Shoemaker’s adaptation is most successful when grounding her lofty mythological subject in a milieu that is readily recognizable as that of our own. Her Jason and Medea, like any pair of contemporary young lovers, fumble awkwardly through the early missteps of their relationship. And were Shoemaker content with limiting Jason and (Medea)’s sphere of activity to the inner intensity of her lovers’ relationship, the play might succeed in being a legitimately arresting Euripidean tragedy with modern flair.
Unfortunately, efforts to juxtapose the everyday with the cosmically vast result in awkward variances in tone which Jason and (Medea) is never quite able to resolve. Bewildering mytho-poetic passages, for example, attempting to forge a correlation between the law of gravitation and the law of erotic attraction, feel reaching and misplaced, casting over Jason and (Medea) an oddly cerebral veneer which never quite touches down upon anything real or genuinely lived. And Shoemaker’s adopted an unwieldy epic structure that over the course of a dizzying two hours takes us from Colchis to the hull of the Argo to Iolcus and finally to Corinth. Like any bout of sea sickness, our emotions want to hone in on the minute complexities of Jason and Medea’s inner life together, but the narrative instead sends us cascading violently about, blown from one seaport to the next.
For Shoemaker has opted to work on an immense epic canvas, unfortunately necessitating overly broad brushstrokes in several of her scenes, which is very much a shame considering her undeniable gifts in fleshing out the lived ironies of everyday existence. For where the Jason and Medea of myth aspire to the heights of greatness, Shoemaker’s couple aspire rather to the more narrow level of adult competence and maturity. Indeed, Jason and (Medea) is most charming when attempting to graft onto the hero’s journey a tender and soft-spoken coming-of-age story. Regrettably, much of this tends to get drowned out in an overly self-stylized cacophony of blood, battles and legendary monsters.
And because Shoemaker’s brushstrokes are so frequently broad, the inner workings of Jason and Medea’s relationship often stop short at a somewhat conventional ‘battle of the sexes,’ often forcibly contrived to favor Shoemaker’s proto-feminist Medea. Jason, by contrast, proceeds with all the juvenile subtly of a frat boy, aggressively dismissing his wife’s magical talents as a challenge to his own sense of personal distinction. And while the question of dueling ambitions between today’s young men and women is by no means irrelevant, Jason’s attitudes toward Medea are so oddly anachronistic and lacking in self-awareness that we can’t help but feel him to be something a straw man, easily blown over by the most feeble of feminist rhetoric. And though Alex Thompson as Jason is boyishly charming in all the right places, he seems less sure how to make Jason’s chauvinistic grunts seem anything more than easy caricature. Still, Bridget Schreiber as the willful and impassioned Medea gives an animated and self-assured performance, quick with a barb to deflate her man’s over-inflated ego even as she struggles convincingly to assert her own abilities.
And Janet Howe’s direction demonstrates an ability to give shape and form to even the most errant of theatrical journeys, and
audiences will be pleasantly amused at her ability to extract the most from precious few resources. The fire-breathing bull of Colchis, for example, built with little more than two actors, a pair of sticks, and a piece of strung fabric, sacrifices none of its legitimate theatricality to an otherwise simple construction. Similarly, Sarah Jo White’s period costumes—of a variety of deep hues and rich textures—succeed in blending economical thrift with creative ingenuity.
In short, although Jason and (Medea) is to be commended for its ambition to make the legendary once again familiar to us, one cannot help but feel that a little less would have gone much further. Epic visions are useful for capturing a sense of the grand moral order of the cosmos, but they often come short of relaying the more intimate experiences of being young, in love and wounded. Thus rather than finding Jason and (Medea) emotionally anchored in the depths of genuinely lived experience, we find it instead drifting listlessly across the mere surface of the open sea.
Reviewed by Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Thursday, June 20th, 2013.
Running time is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
Jason and (Medea) runs until July 7th, 2013. The Second Stage is located at 3408 N. Sheffield. . Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at https://www.theatreinchicago.com/jason-and-medea/6448/.