Sunday, September 30, 2007

PLAY: "medEia"

Some people will swear to the universality of music, the way that simple lyrics and easy grooves float directly into one's subconscious, there to live forever. Others will testify to the unambiguity of a picture -- a thousand-word image that breaks down linguistic barriers and pierces the heart. Still others will swear to the thousands-of-years-old Greek dramas, which are still as relevant now as they were then; a testament to the emotions we all live and die by. Whether or not Oscar van Woensel had any of this in mind when he reworked Euripides' Medea (along with his Amsterdam-based company, Dood Paard), his play interjects pop lyrics into a stream of consciousness text that jumps from the removed summary of the third person chorus to the involved passion of first person tragic.

At first, the work feels like it's beating a dead horse (Dood Paard means that in English): the three actors (van Woensel, Manja Topper, and Kuno Bakker) pull a battered, parchment-thin curtain up so that it veils a piercing row of lights, then stand in front of it like weathermen before a blue screen and explain the story of Medea (how Jason came to Kolchis seeking the Golden Fleece so that he might be made king by Peleas; how Medea helped him, only to be spurned by Jason's love for King Creaon's virgin daughter; how Medea revenged herself by killing the children she shared with Jason). After twenty minutes of dialogue, the actors rip down the curtain, pull another one up (closer to the audience this time), and project musically accompanied slides (clicked through so rapidly that they are barely recognizable) across the screen. Wash, rinse, and repeat, it seems.

In actuality, this is more like a dance of the seven veils: each of the four segments grows more involved, less removed both from the text and from the audience. The text, so simply written in what Dood Pard calls a "Euro-English," starts to develop a rhythm to the ear, and the pop lyrics grow more and more identifiable. For instance:

Survival of the fittest
I will survive
So turn around now
You're not welcome anymore
Be strong
Now you need it

I need it

All you need is love

Ohblahdi ohbladah
Life goes on bra
Lalalalalife goes on
There are some nice moments in medEia, but too much of the presentation seems disconnected, particularly the musical interludes and accompanying slide-show. Throwing in an image of Bush, any image, forces the mind to think of other things, and those comparisons just aren't there (not like they are in, say, Iphigenia 2.0). If this was meant to be transformative or startling, it's not. But the plain prose is intriguing, as is Dood Paard's back-to-the-wall delivery of it, and the story really is (and probably always will be) universal.

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