MIA: Clarke and Haberk in Medea in Jerusalem.
Roger Kirby, directed by Maxwell Williams
Capital Repertory Theatre, through Sept. 17
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.
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.