Euripedes' Medea brings to mind jealousy, passion, murder and infanticide, but not necessarily the 1950s. In the popular imagination, the 1950s was the peaceable decade, a time when no man ever dreamed of going behind his wife's back and no mother could imagine hurting her child, when the greatest tragedy to befall the American family was envisioned by that spokesperson for an era, Lucy, burning a meatloaf. So just what does director Mic Shackelford think he's playing at by dropping Medea into 1950s television? Corinth ain't Pleasantville—or is it?
Though Shackelford stopped short of fully answering the question in this Concordia University production (which closed last Sunday), he offers a few interesting parallels and makes a few semi-predictable claims. The story of Medea, a woman who killed her brother and left her home to become a dependent wife and mother in Greece, does makes sense for the black-and-white format of early American television. Her past notwithstanding, Medea's experience in Corinth is that of a 1950s woman relying wholly on her husband for love, support, children and sex.
Shackelford and crew set the stage for an effective juxtaposition of Greek drama and American TV culture with a 1950s score; commercials and texts—including "The Good Wife's Guide" from Housekeeping Monthly (May 1955)—fill the program. The suburban setting and characters are all black and white. When the passionate Medea (Becca Rogers) exacts merciless vengeance on her husband, Jason (Jonathon Howard), by killing his new mistress, her father (Creon, played by CJ Lason) and her own children, Shackelford makes no obvious set change. Medea and her surroundings remain dull, the only brightness the almost-slapstick appearance of her children's blood on her dress. The other characters are unchanged—Aegeus (Adam Kluth) remains a Milleresque salesman and the Tutor (Vernon Dew) an Etonesque nerd.
But Shackelford fails to leverage these interesting design choices into powerful commentary, never really drawing the connection between 1950s America and Medea's Corinth. It's possible, for example, to note that while TV was depicting a suburban Pax Americana, Joseph McCarthy was hunting reds; the civil-rights movement was born; the New Left was coming of age; the CIA tested covert ops in Guatemala, Iran and Vietnam; the Beat generation discovered jazz and pot; and Madison Avenue first toyed with the almost-nuclear power of appealing to the hedonists laboring anonymously in America's white-collar mills. Most important for Shackelford's purposes, of course, the 1950s was the decade when America's most profound feminists first discovered the dissatisfactions of even pretending that father knew best.