Last night’s premiere of Dutch theatre group Dood Paard’s (it means “dead horse”) medEia is bound to provoke some griping from people who prefer their big-dollar theatre served up a la The Constant Wife – with lots of lavish costumes, a gorgeous set, witty repartee, bon mots aplenty, a pleasantly linear plot, and an unbreachable fourth wall. medEia, it should be stated for the record, has none of those things. Dood Paard’s deconstructivist, postmodern spin on the chick who, when abandoned by her husband, Jason (of Argonauts fame), for another woman, butchered her own children as revenge against him, was a miracle of nonpresentational theatre, as effective in its own way at storytelling as the gift from The Gate this year.
The Emmett Robinson stage was bare to its black brick walls but for a series of taped-together paper backdrops which could be hoisted up by the three actors to a set of hanging flyrods. (Just just like in the picture up there.) Brilliant white klieg lights at the back of the stage pointed directly at the audience as we filtered in, but once the first backdrop went up they shone dully through the semi-translucent material, creating an otherworldly glow. The actors, dressed in attire that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Peninsula Grill, stood side by side in front of the backdrops and spoke directly to the audience, each assuming the various roles of Medea and the other folks who appear in Euripides’ version of the 2,400-year-old tale: Kings Creon and Aegeus, Jason, Glauce, Pelias, the goddess Hera, even the doomed rugrats, the Chorus, and a gaggle of gossipy village women who comment hilariously on the plot. (And yes, Dood Paard finds plenty of humor in this play, which it goes without saying is not traditionally a knee slapper.)
But there’s practically nothing traditional about medEia. In between scenes, the trio tore down (literally) the paper sheeting back drop and hauled up the one on front of it, each time moving a few feet closer to the audience, and punctuating scenes with a slideshow of seemingly random images that changed almost too fast for us to register. The three actors – Kuno Bakker, Manja Topper, and Oscar van Woensel – made a point of looking directly at audience members, forcing us to engage and take some responsibility for what was happening in front of us.
There is much more to be said about the way the three subtly mine scores of pop songs past and present for much of the play’s text (hence the extra i in the title). CP critic Jennifer Corley’s review for the paper does a fine job of parsing medEia’s finer points. I say let the cretins who snuck out during the slideshows enjoy having their brains melt into goop from repeated viewings of Project Runway and The Bachelor. Those who stayed to the end with Dood Paard knew they had had seen something special and unique. Even if they didn’t know exactly what.