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'Medea' modernized

Updates to Euripides' tale of vengeance include weighty themes on race, gender and Western exploitation.

August 29, 2003|Don Braunagel | Special to The Times

SAN DIEGO — "Medea, Queen of Colchester," Sledgehammer Theatre's world premiere modernized revival of the classic Greek tale of a scorned woman's revenge, is burdened with extra issues and erratic acting but remains compelling and provocative.

In Greek mythology and Euripides' play, Medea loves Jason so much that she betrays her family and homeland to save his life and flee with him. She bears him two children, but he then forsakes her to marry the daughter of King Creon. He defends himself by saying his marriage provides power and security to protect all of them. Medea doesn't see it that way, so she sends a poisoned robe to the new bride, killing her and her father. Then, in the vengeance that has made her name infamous, she slays her and Jason's children.

Marianne McDonald's script ingeniously modernizes all this. Medea here is a black transvestite from South Africa's Colchester (the original Medea was from Colchis) who becomes involved with white drug dealer James, a widower with two sons. She helps him escape by surrendering her brother, and the fugitives move to the U.S., where her cross-dressing talents make her a huge star in Vegas. Then James decides to marry the daughter of a casino kingpin.

So the familiar stew of betrayal and infanticide boils over with a batch of new ingredients: race, gender, parental rights and even Western exploitation of Africa. It's more spice than needed. Still, directors Kirsten Brandt and David Tierney build suspense and intensity with a dark, Brechtian staging and good tech work.

Mathilda de Luce's set depicts Medea's dressing room, in garish shades of red, orange and purple, with an upstage platform and stairs. There two women act as a Greek chorus, adding and underscoring dialogue while, between them, characters enter and leave. David Lee Cuthbert lights the proceedings in demimonde style, mostly dimness and shadows. And Jean-Claude Rideau has provided a stirring sound design and several original tunes. The sound mix, however, needs tweaking. Early lines were muddied, and others were obscured by music.

The performances lacked consistency. Only Warren G. Nolan Jr. as Medea's friend and fellow transvestite maintained credibility throughout, as well as demonstrating vocal chops with Rideau's varied songs and their Greek-chorus lyrics. As Medea, George Alphonso Walker was too declamatory -- and too shaky maneuvering in the high heels of Mary Larson's appropriate costumes.


'Medea, Queen of Colchester'

Where: Saint Cecilia's Playhouse, 1620 6th Ave., San Diego

When: Thursday and Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Sept. 7, 7 p.m.; Sept. 18-20, 8 p.m.; Sept. 21, 2 and 7 p.m.; Sept. 22, 8 p.m.; Sept. 25-27, 8 p.m.; Oct. 5, 12, 2 and 7 p.m.

Ends: Oct. 12

Price: $10-$20

Contact: (619) 544-1484

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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