Most theatre groups are more than willing to stay in safe places.
That’s why you typically see upbeat musicals or comedies being tackled by community theatres. (And let me quickly add, don’t misunderstand me - there’s nothing wrong with staging crowd pleasing shows.)
It takes courage to tackle the shows that fall on the dark side of the spectrum, and thankfully, there are companies willing to tackle those shows.
The theatre group that seems to be leading the way in the Tri-State area is Arts Resources for the Tri-State (ARTS).
Its latest offering is one of the most intense theatre experiences in recent memory, one that hits you visually, viscerally and emotionally.
The play is Medea, a classic Greek tragedy by Euripides, adapted for modern audiences by A.E. Gill.
It’s a story of a disintegrating marriage - and a brutal attempt at revenge.
Medea is well-known in Greek mythology as the woman - or witch - who aided the hero Jason in his quest to acquire the Golden Fleece. She betrayed her family and her home country, and used her knowledge to help Jason overcome mystic menaces and fulfill his quest. He married Medea, and they had two young sons - but then Jason left her to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon. Devastated by the loss of the man she had sacrificed everything for, Medea plots a terrible revenge.
It’s a grim tale that is brought to life with stunning skill and art by this company. Director Leah Turley has crafted an amazing production, combining a deceptively simple (but supremely functional) set with evocative costumes (complete with metallic tattoos), a brilliant use of lighting and subtle music to influence the mood of each scene, and a terrific cast that’s always in motion - and on the edge.
But the show really rests on the talent of its cast. Playing the title role is Joanna Berner Murdock - and she’s spectacular. She’s onstage for virtually the entire show, delivering reams of dialogue with amazing intensity - sometimes pleading, sometimes commanding, always in control. It’s a stunning, riveting performance - well worth the price of admission alone.
She’s supported by the narrator and nurse, played by Sheila Meade, a rare voice of humanity who keeps the story moving along and keep the audience informed about all the heart-breaking events.
You’ll also find an actual Greek Chorus, as Cyndi Mac Fuller, Nora Ankrom, Jinnie Knight, Tish Maynard, Becky McClelland, Kistina Richins and Rachel Sanford use their choreographed motions, their lines (often delivered in unison), and their bodies to become part of the set - it’s simply ingenious and captivating.
There are a few men involved in the production, including Eric Wilson as the hero Jason, the tortured husband of Medea who plays a difficult and intense role in the tragedy. He commands your attention as he confronts a terrible fate - but one he may just deserve.
Mike Murdock bring King Creon to life, the man who has plotted to entice Jason to marry his daughter Glauce (played to stunning effect by Nora Ankrom). But Creon has a moment of weakness, and as a result, he may have to pay a terrible price.
John Campbell plays Aegus, the one truly sympathetic male in the show - and the only one who offers to help Medea. And Jonathan Maynard is the Messenger - and the news he delivers isn’t good.
Lots of shows in our area feature great acting, some include great sets, and others feature strong technical aspects - but this is one of very few productions to combine all three! It’s a performance and presentation that creates a tactical, emotional experience that will stay with you for a long time after you’ve left the theatre.
It’s not a show for everyone - you won’t have snappy songs stuck in your head or take away many laughs - but you will see a moving, thoughtful show that will affect you and make you think - and that, after all, is what art is all about.