Just west of the river on Wisconsin Avenue people were piling onto busses to go and tour Christmas lights as others piled into a flashy touring holiday show at the Riverside. It felt slickly subversive to slide between the shadows of it all and into the basement of a nearby mall where an AMAZING actress pretended to kill a few people on a small stage in a tragedy that debuted on the other side of the world well over 2000 ago. This is the mother of all alternatives to holiday fare. THIS is Greek tragedy.
Euripides’ Medea has held up well over 2000 years since it first debuted to mixed reviews. The ancient tale of revenge has all kinds of echoes in to the modern world. Director Jennifer Vosters brings a very vividly visceral production of the ancient tragedy to the stage of the Underground Collaborative’s Arcade Theatre in a Voices Found Repertory production. Vosters’ adaptation for the stage is a harrowingly tight 75 minutes without intermission. It’s a short, brutal staging that announces itself immediately and wastes little time in reaching its bloody conclusion.
The story gives the actress playing Medea very little time to establish herself. As the tragedy begins, she’s already met with the happiest moments of her life. Her life has come and gone and now all that’s left is the demolition at the end. Her husband has wronged her and abandoned her and her children. He’s taken another wife. All that’s left is revenge. She’s quite open about it. She lets chorus and audience alike know what she’s going to do. Then she does it. There really isn’t much mystery here. It’s very straightforward stuff. It’s a challenge for any actress.
Cara Johnston skillfully casts a stylish sense of mystery into the character. She radiates a hauntingly hypnotic intensity that bleeds a deeper enigma into the existential substance of revenge. It couldn’t be more obvious to the audience what Medea is doing. Johnston’s starkly psychological portrayal of the character invites unavoidable questions about the type of people who seek bloody revenge. Vosters frames the story as a drama of oppression. Medea has been selfless and sacrificed much, but those she have taken pains for would cast her aside and so she seeks revenge.
Madeline Wakley, Maura Atwood and Abigail Stein are a chorus of three. Initially, they are giddy about the prospects of punishing those who have wronged Medea. When the full weight of revenge reveals itself, they are horrified and powerless to stop her. Placing a Greek chorus in the intimacy of a small stage allows each actress to have a distinctly different personality without subverting the overall unity of the chorus. Like so much else about the production, it’s a delicate balance that’s handled quite well.
Catalina Ariel draws quite a bit of intensity as Medea’s nurse, who is called on to aid Medea in her task. In a role that could have read flat and superficial around the edges of the action, Ariel conjures the wise stage presence of an expert in early medicines. She’s not given a whole lot of space to develop a fully-realized character, but Ariel has a precision about her that adds atmosphere to the world that Vosters and company bring to the stage.
Andy Montano is given the unenviable task of playing heroic asshole Jason. He’s largely played as a villain in the script, but Montano is carefully to show the full complexity of a man who is a towering hero in a male-dominated society. There’s no sense of menace here. He’s just inconsiderate in ays. he doesn’t understand. His best scenes draw him against Johnston in a complex dialogue that Jason is far too lost in himself to truly understand.
Joe Dolan makes a witty appearance in the role of Aegeus...the itinerant King of Athens who vows to give Medea protection if she can make it to his kingdom under her own power. There’s nothing intrinsically funny about Aegeus, but Dolan has a cunning sense of humor that lends the character enough authority and wisdom to tease a bit of clever humor into the character’s brief appearance onstage. It’s one of several sharp bits of personality that make for a memorable trip to the Underground Collaborative.
Voices Found Repertory’s production of Medea runs through Dec. 16 at the The Arcade Theatre at the Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket requests and more, visit Voices Found Online.