Since my first encounter with Greek mythology at the age of nine, I've found myself endlessly fascinated by the stories of these gods and mortals entangled in struggles of power, romance, and intrigue. The story of Jason, hero in the quest for the Golden Fleece, and his sorceress wife Medea is fraught with all the elements of good drama.
This tale of adventure, heroism, betrayal, and murder has been brought to life in all manner of art form: sculpture and paintings, epic poems and novels, operas and, of course, plays. When I discovered that Dream Theatre, an Off-Loop company newly established in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, was bringing its own original adaptation of "Medea" to its intimate stage, I was eager to take it in. In doing so, I was pleased to find a very worthy production to which I'm happy to offer my recommendation.
The story opens at the beachside shack that is home to Medea (Rachel Martindale). Created from the rotting shell of the ship Argo that once brought Jason (Jeremy Menekseoglu) to Medea's land and heart, the shack is a visceral analogy of the demise of a once epic romance.
Medea, descended from gods and once a princess as well as a practitioner of magic, is now a middle-aged woman with two young sons and a husband with a wandering eye. Jason, having grown tired of wife and family in their adopted land of Corinth, has won the heart of the virgin princess Glauce, a maneuver no doubt as politically driven as passionately. Despite having aided in Jason's heroic quests and even committing murder to ensure his success, Medea has been cast away, left now with sons in whom neither parent seems to have interest.
We see Medea scold her sons, Mermerus (Anna W Menekseoglu) and Pheres (Madelaine Schmitt), relentlessly, going so far as dunking Mermerus' head underwater for a perceived slight. She remembers aloud the time before the children's births, when she was young and beautiful and the object of her husband's desire. She clearly blames their presence as a factor in Jason's betrayal, and her contempt is palpable. Jason arrives, and Medea pleads for the return of his affection. But Jason is here to offer Medea a bribe to leave Corinth for good, and to take their sons with her.
Having failed to convince Medea to depart, the youthful and gentle bride-to-be Glauce (Amanda Lynn Meyer) takes matters into her own hands, and brings an offer of her own to the scorned Medea: allow for a peaceful wedding, including the blessing of her bridal gown, and take a position of priestess in a high temple of Hera. Though the offer is made in earnest, Medea's anger soon boils into rage, and she plots to destroy the bride, demoralize her wayward husband, and rid herself of her burdensome children once and for all. The bloody conclusion, seeming inevitable given its players, is interrupted as Hera, Queen of the Gods (Kaitlin Stewart) descends, in deus-ex-machina fashion, to intervene on Medea's behalf.
Dream Theatre's "Medea" was written by Jeremy Menekseoglu, who, in addition to performing as Jason, also directed the production. The language is simple and straightforward, guiding the actors to more intimate performances than one might expect from Greek theatre. The tone of the technical designs (under the direction of technical director Paul Knappenberger) was reminiscent of '50s melodrama, very effective and fitting. The performance space is very small, seating less than 30 by my estimate, and too much grandeur would have no doubt overpowered audience and actor alike.
Given such a small space, the acting is the theatrical element that is most under scrutiny, and the ensemble cast of "Medea" had no weak links. In particular, Martindale was powerful yet achingly human as Medea, and as Glauce, Meyer had a humble but steadfast presence that was surprising given how typically superficial her role tends to be.
The play as written was very quick-paced, roughly 75 minutes with no intermission. As a technical aside (and because I'm fussy), a mid-performance scene change dragged too long, taking the audience out of the stream of the action. It would have been more appropriate to find ways to quicken the change, or commit to an actual intermission, for the comfort of the audience.
According to the program, Dream Theatre's mission "is to shatter the barrier between actor and audience... and deliver the highest art possible in its most raw, unflinching, and entertaining form." With this solid production of "Medea" under its belt, Dream Theatre will no doubt continue to execute its mission in its new home for many productions to come.
"Medea" runs through September 14 at Dream Theatre Company, 5026 N Lincoln Ave in Chicago. For information or tickets, call 773-552-8616 or visit www.dreamtheatrecompany.com