Wednesday, March 27, 2002

'Medea' is smart production

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Stage First artistic director Nicholas Korn has always shown an affinity for the great theatrical storytelling of the ancient Greeks, but never more than in the current Medea, which continues for only a handful of performances in the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.

        Put it on your show-going calendar this weekend.

        The tragedy of sorceress Medea, who abandoned her homeland for love of Jason (of Argonauts fame) only to be abandoned in turn by her vain and ambitious husband, plays out in an urgent, 80 intermissionless minutes in a bare space surrounded by the audience.

        Euripides is among the first, but not the last, dramatist to observe that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

        There are many smart things about this production, not the least of which is Mr. Korn's translation. (As usual, he gives himself a playful nom de plume in the program.)

        Translations are perhaps his greatest strength and again with Medea he finds the language that speaks to the playwright's purpose even as it rests easily and intelligently on contemporary ears.

        All the smart choices in the world wouldn't matter much without a strong performance in the title role. Corinne Mohlenhoff, draped exotically in a palette of black and dried blood red, is an admirable Medea. She's been one of the theater scene's most consistently fine actresses and it's a pleasure to see her take center stage.

        Medea first appears in a mad rage, which can give an actress not much room to maneuver. Sustaining that well of rage and a pain-driven commitment to horrible revenge, and finding the lights and shadows to keep it interesting over the course of more than an hour, is a daunting task.

        Ms. Mohlenhoff uses her voice and body to weave a web around the audience. She makes a compelling argument that speaks to her role and offers chilling echoes of headlines about other mothers who have committed atrocities in the name of love.

        Mr. Korn makes an inspired choice in casting women in all the roles, except the two young boys who are Medea's sons. It gives the action a feminist edge that works very well. It not only supports the central role, but the gender twist invites us to take a fresh, contemporary and deeper look at the men who carelessly decide Medea's fate.

        Joanna Tyler plays Jason who so blithely justifies his despicable behavior. Susan Loveridge plays King Creon, Jason's new father-in-law who wants to protect what he loves, is wise enough not to trust Medea for a second, and is ultimately felled by a moment of misplaced compassion.

        Both women give strong performances, greatly aided by the makeup design by Cincinnati Costume Co. Medea's wonderfully exotic sense of place comes courtesy of its so-important makeup design, the flowing costumes of Melanie Mortimore and the headpieces by Sara Havens.

        As director, Mr. Korn does frame a number of dramatic stage pictures, particularly with the Chorus, but he doesn't quite master the arena-style performing space he's chosen.

        Far more importantly, he makes sure his ensemble tells its story clearly and passionately, with Shelly Halter doing a good job of setting the stage in the first act and returning in the second for a dramatic telling of off-stage action.
        Medea, through Sunday, Stage First Cincinnati, Aronoff Center Fifth Third Bank Theater, downtown, 241-7469.


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- 'Medea' is smart production
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