Monday, Aug. 13, 2012

Medea with Fools For Tragedy

A pyromantic evening in a heartbreakingly romantic space on the east side.

By Russ Bickerstaff
Google+ Pinterest Print

   

Fools For Tragedy brings its season to a close with the first straight-ahead drama of the 2012-2013 Theatre season. The group hauls a 2400 year old drama into the pulse of the present with a staging that pours the audience in around the drama.


Directed and adapted by Jordan Gwiazdoski, the drama is rendered in three progressive stages in the beautiful and the fabulously romantic space of the Villa Terrace Art Museum. The drama opens at the gates, moves into the courtyard and finishes inside with the audience sitting at long tables. 

 

The action takes place in and amidst the audience. The first two settings have much of the audience standing. It seems like a simple contrast against sitting in a theater to watch a show but really it ends up being an entirely different way of taking in an ancient drama. Put quite simply, people relate to things differently standing up. The audience is drawn into the story in a posture akin to that of curious onlookers. As the complexity of things increases we are drawn further and further it inside. Into the hearts of conflict/ We take a seat and the drama rushes around the edges of the room.

 

It's really simple effect, but it is very, very effective. Of course, it would only be a gimmick if the performances themselves weren't really, really staggeringly good. With a cast entirely consisting of young actors, there's a deep and dazzling passion moving this production. This first real drama of the new season may prove to be one of its best by far. It's a dizzyingly tight, little drama that has all the purity of Greek tragedy mixed with the earthbound reality of action that is taking place on a stage space freely shared with the audience. 

 

Gwen Zupan greets concerned visitors to the home of the title character as her assistant. Costuming and make up look particularly good on her. A facial tattoo accents a very formal costuming. We get the sense of a primal formality about her presence. She is deeply, deeply worried about Medea. Members of the chorus discuss her well-being at the gates. The chorus here has kind of a three sisters of fate thing going on with Shannon Tyburski, Jennifer Gaul and Ellen Dunphy adding substantial mood and emotion to the proceedings. 

 

Before long we get our opportunity to see Medea in person. Tragically human, Medea also happens to be related to the sun god. Amber Smith combusts the shadowy heart of an irresistible emotional inferno in the role. Medea has been tragically betrayed by her husband. Smith ignites the reality of that the betrayal in the production with an inspired darkness. Smith wields a sorrowful fearlessness in the room. The intimacy of the venue allows for a profound appreciation of just what kind of performance she's putting in here. With bare feet, she treads the interior space. From the distance she's walking, there really isn't anything she can hide.  Smith got a standing ovation opening night. She deserved it. 

 

Jordan Gwiazdowski plays the object of Medea's anger-- the hero Jason. It's been a while since the whole bit with the golden fleece and the Argo/ Outside the quest, Gwiazdowski is delivering the character's heroic side tempered with kind of a sympathetic arrogance that gives the character some depth. He's been a hero. And he's a jerk. And thanks to Gwiazdowski, we get a pretty deep look at the character. It's not easy to like him, but it's equally difficult to hate him. He's enterprising and self-serving, but not without a sense of duty. The initial argument between Jason and Medea hits its own climax long before the play's final moments. Smith and Gwiazdowski are really, really good with that argument. (Really good.) The pyrotechnics of that initial argument have the kind of intensity that runs the risk of  drowning out the rest of the drama that follows it, but thanks to a fluidly balanced cast, the production remains riveting throughout. 

 

Seeing Amber Smith in a central role like this is every bit as satisfying and I'd expected it to be. Of course, there are really talented actors also making appearances in much smaller roles. In addition to Zupan's performance, Elizabeth Whitford and Michael Keiley put in some shockingly good performances around the edges of the action. 

 

Fools For Tragedy's production of Medea runs through August 22nd at the Villa Terrace. For ticket reservations email: rsvp@cavtmuseums.org

   

Log in to use your Facebook account with
Express Milwaukee

Login With Facebook Account