Sunday, October 23, 2016

Seattle Shakespeare Company's "Medea"

(Medea by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys (painted 1866-68))

The Seattle Shakespeare Company's production of Euripides' play "Medea" is brilliantly done. It takes up the story of Jason and Medea, 10 years after her help was crucial to him in obtaining the Golden Fleece. In the interim, she bore him two sons. But now Jason is planning to abandon Media for Glauce, the daughter of King Cleon.

This production is, as befits the material, a cry of raw pain and anger. It opens with the Nurse explaining Jason's betrayal of Medea. In another room seen only in shadow, Medea is clearly raging and destroying everything she can get her hands on. By the end of the play she HAS destroyed everything important to her in order to get revenge upon Jason. Although, to be fair it has to be pointed out that it was really the feckless Jason who began the destruction and Medea who followed through with its rather obvious consequences.

This being the first Greek play I have seen, the role played by the Chorus was very interesting. I was rather surprised at the extent to which the Chorus interacted with the play but it offered support for Medea's planned revenge...right up to the point where she decided to murder her two children. At that point, like a conscience she ought to listen to, they begin to try to reason with her and suggest that she not take her revenge to the point of killing innocents. But their efforts are to no avail: Medea follows through with her plans and leaves the stage a charnel house.

If you enjoy seeing a really good, cathartic tragedy, this is the play for you! I'm looking forward to being an usher for next weekend's performance so I can see it again...

Production Team

Kelly Kitchens (Director)
Donald Byrd (Choreographer)
Andrea Bryn Bush (Set Designer)
Chelsea Cook (Costume Designer)
Kent Cubbage (Lighting Designer)
Shenandoah Davis (Composer)
Robin Macartney (Props Designer)
Nina Trotto (Stage Manager).

Cast (in alphabetical order)

John Bianchi (Servant)
Maya Burton (Chorus)
Peter Crook (Kreon)
Yadira Duarte (Nurse)
Sunam Ellis (Chorus)
Sylvester F. Kamara (Jason)
Chelsea LeValley (Chorus)
Kevin McKeon (Aigeus)
Matt Sherrill (Tutor)
Alexandra Tavares (Medea)
Kathryn Van Meter (Chorus)
Lucy Weber (Chorus)
Dedra D. Woods (Chorus)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Seattle Shakespeare production of A Winter's Tale

The Seattle area is settling cozily into Autumn now. Fans of the Seattle Seahawks are getting excited about watching  big men in spandex hold meetings and occasionally chase an inflated leather ball. Others of us are much more interested in the start of another brilliant Seattle Shakespeare season. And this one hit the ground running with its production of The Winter's Tale!

Last month, I attended a Preview showing of the play. Managing Director John Bradshaw, after asking the audience to turn off their cell phones (I remember one going off during Richard II two years ago...and wondering whether the callee was one of the heads in a bag delivered to Bolingbroke later), noted that Preview showings are fresh productions and the cast occasionally have missteps. If there were any in this performance, I definitely missed them. This performance was akin to other Seattle Shakespeare productions I have seen in recent years: homey and comfortable, yet with a stratospheric level of excellence!

For those not familiar with it, The Winter's Tale is the story of a king who destroys his family through a clearly insane jealousy and ultimately largely regains it. Like other late Shakespeare plays (Pericles, Cymbeline, The Tempest), this one contains tragic elements of disaster and ruined lives but culminates in an ending which shows that even when life appears bleak, there can be hope. That's why these late plays are among my favorites

Like much of the Bard's work, this play uses multiple comparable plot lines to emphasize the points being made. While not as insane and lethal as Leontes, his alienated friend Polixines nearly makes a a similarly fatal error in trying to force his will on his son and the princess who he thinks is a common shepherdess.

One other intriguing thing about this play is that Leontes' emotional arc almost seemed like a reverse of the character Othello's in that play. Othello starts off happy, calm and collected, is gradually worked to a fever pitch of jealousy, commits the atrocity of murdering his wife and then discovers that he was duped into doing so and almost calmly takes his own life. In A Winter's Tale, the king starts out calm and then explodes into a jealous rage for no reason at all. He then spends some 16 years trying to atone for his crimes and in a surprise ending, is reunited with the queen he had thought long dead. Perhaps in an intentional choice, the actor portraying Leontes was the same actor who played Iago in Seattle Shakespeare's production of Othello, last year.

Another striking thing about this play (aside from its epic stage direction "Exit pursued by a bear") is how the heroism of ordinary folks serves to counteract the dangerous excesses of rulers making bad choices. For a playwright so invested in royalty and maintaining the natural hierarchical order of things, the actions of Camillo and Paulina in this play are a refreshing reminder that power does not automatically bring wisdom...

This production was delightful and I am very glad to have seen it.

Production Team

Sheila Daniels (Director)
Tommer Peterson (Set Designer)
Kelly McDonald (Costume Designer)
Reed Nakayama (Lighting Designer)
Harry Todd Jamieson (Sound Designer)
Marc Kenison (Choreographer)
Rafael Molina (Composer)
Robin Macartney (Props Designer)
Miranda Pratt (Stage Manager).


Mark Fullerton (Old Shepherd)
Rachel Guyer-Mafune (Dorcas/Lady)
Spencer Hamp (Clown)
Reginald Andre Jackson (Polixenes)
Jonelle Jordan (Mopsa/Emilia)
Brenda Joyner (Hermione)
Darragh Kennan (Leontes)
Finn Kennan (Mamillius)
Denny Le (ensemble)
George Mount (Antigonus)
Galen Joseph Osier (Camillo)
Rudy Roushdi (Florizel)
MJ Sieber (Autolycus)
Jasmine Jean Sim (Perdita)
Amy Thone (Paulina)