BOTTOM LINE: Puppet children and a wonderfully performed and directed chorus are decent reasons to spend an hour with Medea.
The "classics" are tricky little things to produce. Unlike modern favorites or new works, one can pretty much expect an audience full of jaded theater goers who have either read, seen, discussed or indulged in the Cliffs Notes version of the piece prior to entering the theater. What I need to know when deciding to see a production like the No. 11 Productions version of Medea is "Why this one?" The answer, in this particular case lies in two elements: puppets and the chorus.
I strongly suspect that No. 11 chose to utilize puppets to play the two sons of Jason and Medea because child actors are ridiculously difficult to find and even more difficult to work with. Regardless, the convention worked. The two children are portrayed by toddler sized puppets being manipulated by two and sometimes three actors each. The cast's interactions with the puppets sell them as authentic children, and the puppeteers have mastered the small gestures, tics, shuffles and scratches that make up the body language of very young children. As the visual highlight of the show they, delightfully, steal the focus of the show anytime they're on stage, which would be fortunate, if they didn't occupy such a small role. As is, I found myself anxiously waiting they're return anytime they left the stage.
The real reason to see this particular production of Medea is the chorus. Composed of four pregnant women played by, Alison Novelli, Nina Meijers, Sara Kliger and Haley Greenstein, the chorus is the visual, emotional and aural highlight of the show. What to do with the chorus in the Greek plays has always seemed such a daunting task to me. Modern audiences just aren't comfortable with collective narration and so often a chorus on stage feels awkward and clunky. Not so in the production. Director Ryan Emmons and choreographer Ava Conoval move the chorus members about the stage seamlessly, endowing them with raw movements that truly serve to better communicate and emote to the audience.
No. 11's production of Medea isn't a particular stand out in terms of good classical theater. The acting is passable and some of the design is painfully predictable. For those who have never had the chance to catch a production of Medea before, or for the Eurpides buff interested in seeing a wonderful working of the chorus, it's a pleasant way to spend the evening.
(Medea plays at the Kraine Theatre,85 East 4th Street, through March 6, 2010. Performances are March 1st at 7:30pm, March 4th at at 9:00pm, and March 6th at at 1:00pm. Tickets are $16 and can be purchased at smarttix.com. For more festival information visit frigidnewyork.info.)