Ancient Greek stories are amazing: mythology's rich combination of divine interference in the lives of mankind, blood and passion mixed with political intrigue, memorable monsters pitted against tragically flawed heroes—this stuff can still enrapture us 2,500 years later. Greek plays are something else altogether—too much talking, no action to speak of, masked choruses delivering the requisite backstory. Let's stipulate that what made audiences gasp and faint in 431 B.C. may be different today.
And Golden West College's Medea didn't change my mind. Its technical elements are strong—especially Sigrid Hammer Wolf's washed-out scenic design and Robert Mumm's red-tinged lighting design—but the performances take a header under Tom Amen's lackluster direction. Tony Zeller's sturdy take on Jason is quite powerful, but every cast member's approach to the material is so different it feels as though each is in a different play.
Jill Cary Martin's child-murdering harridan suffers most from Amen's lack of vision. Quiet and contemplative one moment, a screaming depressive the next—with no middle ground—Amen strands Martin on the set with little to do but stand and deliver her speeches at the audience. And Robinson Jeffers' adaptation does not help. By eliminating the Chorus, he reduces the play's cast and stunts the scope of its story. He inexplicably keeps the repetitive character harangues, yet bluntly removes the sole mythopoetic moment of Euripides' original—the one scene that actually had some punch: Medea flying off into the sky in a chariot drawn by a dragon, her dead children with her, and Jason left to his grief.
This production desperately needs that bit of sadistic glee. Medea should have our sympathy, even if we are repelled by her crime, and so we need to be on her side at the end. In Jeffers' version, Medea simply walks into the house and closes the door, leaving us stranded. Jason doesn't bother following her.