Spoleto 2007 » Opera & Theatre

REVIEW ‌ medEia

This innovative work is just the shot in the arm the festival needed

by

comment

A Playlist for Love
Dood Paard shows you can take an old dog and teach it new tricks

Dood Paard’s medEia explores the Greek myth of Medea, who took revenge on her husband Jason (for abandoning her) by killing their two children. Since the story has been dramatized so many times, the Dutch company has chosen an entirely new, engaging way of telling the tale. Their focus is not on the dramatizing of the story, but of telling it. They tell the story from the chorus’ perspective, and also give voice to Jason and Medea and others as they tell the story.
medEia provides a good balance to the festival; it’s one of the edgier, non-traditional pieces that should have people glad to have experienced a different kind of theatre. So why, then, did about a dozen audience members jump ship over the course of the play?
Here’s hoping it was for technical or practical reasons rather than offended sensibilities. (Otherwise, what a disappointment in the audience’s openness to art!) As the play begins, the three actors (Kuno Bakker, Manja Topper, and Oscar van Woensel) take positions at the rear of the stage; with each new act, they come closer to the audience. It’s probable that the further you sit from the stage, the more disconnected you feel from the performance, unable to make out the actors’ faces in the dim light, paired with the dry presentation style and their sometimes quiet speaking… maybe some people just gave up instead of seeing it through.
But as the performance progresses and the actors come closer, you can make out their faces better from the light of the footlights. Eventually their faces have hard shadows on them as they, in chorus mode, try to explain how they couldn’t do anything to stop Medea.
The text is full of lines or half-lines from songs by The Beatles, Madonna, Human League, The Doors, and many others. The use of lines from pop songs is so intrusive it becomes apparent how humans almost can’t form their own original words anymore — especially this chorus, who can’t take action and who have meaningless, empty words provided for them. The company’s style contributes to the feeling of uselessness or futility: imagine someone saying “forever — what does that mean?” and “love will tear us apart” with almost no emotion in his voice.
The lines they — and we — speak may even be unintentionally quoting pop songs. Lyrics become a part of our lexicon to where the grandest emotions are boiled down to a simple phrase. There are no odes to love, only playlists for them.
Some of the actors’ speeches are delivered like a schoolchild reading a literary passage aloud in class. Occasionally there’s a burst of anger or passion. You may find yourself thinking: how is this succeeding? Their bodies barely move, their voices have little emotion in them, little facial expression,… it’s a very contained, restrained world these actors occupy in telling a violent, passionate story and yet it still works. And is even compelling and captivating. They’re funny and compassionate, and personality runs throughout the piece.
Slide shows play, accompanied by music, in between each act. Some are old photos, some are new. They are of people, churches, landscapes, products, houses, even a half-eaten piece of toast…. Tons of photos that, by the third presentation, are going by at such breakneck speed that they may not even register. They are thoughts and memories — visions of days gone by and yearned for, present surroundings, things special to only us, a collection of moments frozen in time in our minds. Some photos linger, so that we can make a connection with them.
The slide shows project onto large paper sails that are hoisted and destroyed in between each act. They have scars, line after line of tape on them as evidence of previous rips. The tears in the paper clearly symbolize destruction — of love, of life, of happiness. They symbolize the ancient and the modern: the stories that stay the same no matter how much time passes on earth. The story, as they tell us, is one of grief over the loss of love. And as they say, “love is the most destructive of all emotions.”

medEia • Spoleto Festival USA • $30 • (1 hour 15 min.) • June 1, 4, and 5 at 8 p.m.; June 2 at 2 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • 579-3100

Add a comment