Medea opened yesterday in Toronto’s Canon Theatre and as a gift to cast members, Seana McKenna had shirts made with “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Medea?” written across a bloody-looking letter “M.” This is, of course, a nod to the Mirvish production of The Sound of Music, whose lead was cast by the CBC reality show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
Any problems about Medea have been solved by this production, the third time that Seana has performed this role with Scott Wentworth as Medea’s husband Jason and Mile Potter directing. The story is not easy to take in. Yet this 2,500-year-old tale of the hell let loose by a woman scorned by her husband, who marries a young blonde, is as contemporary as a Dr. Phil show. The lesson of the play might be: don’t mess with your ex-wife.
Despite its horrific ending, the tragedy is not all doom and gloom. There is enough irony and sarcastic humour to lighten the tone even as we gasp at what Medea is driven to.
Seana doesn’t play her as a one-note witch or madwoman. Medea does practise “dark arts” that include healing and the use of medicines, which was enough to brand women as witches only a few hundred years ago. And she does cross the line into mad revenge, but Seana plays her sympathetically. She has Medea swing between the extremes of a discarded wife abandoned in a foreign land to a supernatural force that controls thunder, lightning and fire. Even her idea to commit the ultimate unnatural act that even wild animals don’t do, is more the result of King Aegeus’s belief that to die childless is the worst thing that can happen to a man, than her own simple thirst for revenge.
This is not fare for a mindless fun night out. If you’re going through a painful divorce, are a man considering stepping outside your marriage or want to see powerful performances in a shocking production, this is a cathartic cautionary tale to see with friends. Book club groups are sure to love it.
Additonal notes: Seana is our regular theatre columnist and she has written about performing Medea in the December issue of Escarpment Views.
A pre-show talk about the myth is given for free, one hour before each performance. This is a useful introduction to the play.
Seana will give a live interview on CBC radio’s Q program at 10 a.m. on Thursday Jan. 15.
Do you agree with my critique? Did I miss the boat about this show or the myth of Medea? Share your views.