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Emotions MIA: Clarke and Haberk in Medea in Jerusalem.

Just Mythed
By James Yeara

Medea in Jerusalem

By Roger Kirby, directed by Maxwell Williams

Capital Repertory Theatre, through Sept. 17

Capital Repertory Theatre’s current production of Medea in Jerusalem, a modern variation on the Greek myth most memorably rendered by Euripides, is the theatrical equivalent of brussels sprouts: You want to like them, you know that they are good for you—but they are brussels sprouts.

Capital Repertory Theatre is to be lauded for offering challenging fare in the midst of the Twinkie season, but the mere fact that Medea in Jerusalem isn’t Agatha Christie or Neil Simon doesn’t make the play memorable, insightful or exciting. I wanted to like Medea in Jerusalem, I wanted to praise it for its didactic qualities, for the healthful challenge it promised to present. But as the production plodded on, I couldn’t help wishing that it were Medea, reliant on poetry and ritual, or that the words and the actions of this concept piece had a connection—other than that someone onstage said them and then indicated an emotion.

Set in “Jerusalem, Today, and 15 years of yesterdays,” according to the program, Medea in Jerusalem seems to be curiously placed in some parallel universe that adheres to an aesthetic only playwright Roger Kirby, director Maxwell Williams, and the seven-person cast inhabit. The riveting opening is done in shadows and echoes of gunfire, with a couple meeting to passionately couple before a monolithic center stone inspired by the Black Stone of Mecca and the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. Scenic designer Roman Tatarowicz, lighting designer Annmarie Duggan and sound designer Jeremy Wilson created a modern setting for this ancient myth of maternal infanticide that engages, all done without a word uttered by the cast. Israeli army officer Jason (Sean Haberle) and Palestinian Medea (Judith Lightfoot Clarke, who excelled in Capital Rep’s Nora) embrace, part, shots ring out and the tragedy is set in motion, all without dialogue, every second engrossing.

Then the dialogue starts, the concept gets more and more laden, and Medea in Jerusalem becomes as clunky as the centerstage monolith. Actors talk about characters being angry and unhinged when they clearly aren’t, actors say that they are passionate when they are as cold as stone, actors speak chunky dialogue that is sadly devoid of emotion.

What starts promisingly ends 85 intermissionless minutes later as an academic exercise in blocking and staging. Even the addition of news celebrities Jim Kambrick and Benita Zahn intoning reports from the region seemed to just bookend scenes rather than illuminate the story, the characters, the theme. The concept and promise to explore the passions in the Arab-Israeli conflict are laudable, but the execution of Medea in Jerusalem left me hoping that Capital Rep would tackle the classics in as timely a concept, but with the insights carried by the words and the actions and the emotions melded into one, not spelled out block by block blandly.

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