Friday, August 22, 2014

A letter from Audence after seeing MEDEA

Jeremy and all who worked so hard to create a masterful and marvelous performance -
I feel I must share some thoughts with you. Forgive the style - I am always in junior English class - but the sentiment is genuine and immediate.
"All the world's a stage..." Perhaps true, but not all stages are the world - that is to say not all productions touch into real lives - real people - real worlds. When I catalog the shows I have seen (or been involved with): musicals, classic productions, opera, children's shows, circus performances, spoken word concerts, rock concerts, high school productions, puppet shows, professional theater, films, television programming, etc - placing the filter of "touched my life" reduces the number I can count to the scant few. Storytelling is NOT the same as true DRAMA. I suppose I am focusing on the questions "What is the purpose of drama?" , or to be less eloquent, "Why bother?"
Medea answers this question. Actually, it explodes the question and shouts back at the viewer. Shouts, "I AM life - I am YOUR life, YOUR family, YOUR culture, YOUR problem, YOUR mess, YOUR world. I AM YOUR WORLD!" At the risk of over analyzing an ephemeral experience, I feel I must try to explain more fully. If I fall into "term paper" mode, forgive me. But I feel this production deserves a much more thoughtful analysis than a simplistic critique would offer.
The play, the words themselves, delve into humanity. Character flaws, character strengths, preconceived idealized versions of mankind vs realistic fallible, flawed and broken humans: beings replete with emotions, contrived civility and convention, contrary behaviors, forced social ordering and posturing and societal modeling inhabited the small space between my chair and the wall. These characters spring to life from the words you have written and the masterful portrayals your actors imbue them with. In short, these characters are mankind - REAL PEOPLE, yet cloaked in the guise of "characters in a play". These individuals are multi-dimensional - not cut-outs representing simple melodramatic archetypes. Jason is not merely a military man on the fast track to heroic success - but also broken, flawed, and far from the icon for strength, courage and dignity he hopes to convey. The juxtaposition of his career success with his obvious personal failures makes him a REAL man - one we can relate to, sympathize with, despise, target our anger and disgust upon - in fact we can do anything but ignore him, or relegate him to average or irrelevant. He is modern man - and all that our culture confuses for manly is worn on him like the uniform he clearly treasures. He is a father - father to his children? No. Father figure - figure head - in today's woefully broken family. He is Father in title only. And, as such, he makes us question, "What IS a father? What should a father be like? What is the role that man should play once he has procreated?" Likewise he makes us reflect on the title husband. What is a HUSBAND? What does it mean to be a husband? In these ways, Jason confronts the audience not only with his shortcomings, but with our own. We are convicted and stand naked and ashamed.
Medea. That name alone can conjure a host of reactions. To those who know the story, it usually points to her murderous nature towards her own children. In the classic Greek tragedy, we can stand apart - look dispassionately on at the un-natural and evil act. Label it and move on. Not so your Medea. She is NOT a footnote, not a symbol or allegory. She is REAL. She speaks and speaks from places we fear to go, but know are true, are real. She is not just a woman in a story. She is woman TODAY, in THIS world, THIS culture, THIS day. She confronts the culture - the world WE live in. The world that treasures, idolizes, adores and desires YOUTH in women and offers nothing to them as they age. She is the collateral damage of a society that forces it's definition on her - defines, "what is WOMAN?", "What is MOTHER?", "What is WIFE?" She refuses to be discarded; refuses to wear the mantle of "older woman", "ex-wife" of "mother to HIS children"... Her reasoning runs off the rails, but not as far as we would like to think.... Her conclusion could easily be ours. Every woman who has been abandoned or divorced for some younger model, someone "new and fresh" can relate to the rage, the hurt, the desire, the fear, the confusion and the obscenity of the unrealistic role society expects her to play after she has been replaced. After her body has altered with age, and childbirth, after she has lost her name to his and taken on his life as hers...only to be betrayed and abandoned. This Medea - she is REAL.

The children - our children - all our children... US. The children of Medea and Jason have always attracted the most attention - the most sympathy. But these children, from THIS production are not just innocents. They are the broken, the discarded, the forgotten and unloved children of OUR world. They are OUR future, OUR culture. They are the product of OUR "fathers" and "mothers" - OUR broken homes. Mermerus reminds us of every child who is forced to be the parent, maturing long before he is ready – taking on burdens too large and seeking approval that will never come. This child who so clearly sees his parents for what they really are, yet childishly craves for them to be different – he is the son or daughter in OUR dysfunctional homes. His younger brother Pheres compliments him with a less complete level of damage– revealing his desperate belief in goodness and happy endings; Pheres is the incomplete version of his elder sibling. Not yet hardened by realization, Pheres remains painfully innocent – yet we already glimpse the disturbing effect of dysfunction upon him as he flings himself through space, craving human connections and closeness regardless of the obvious hurts and wounds that repeatedly greet his advances. These children are OUR children – they walk our streets, join gangs, go to schools, live lives of delinquency and fill our detention facilities. We are horrified to see Medea murder her children while Jason stands impotently as spectator. But in that moment we must confess that WE stand just as impotently by - letting the destruction take place. We sanction their deaths - we allow the "slaughter" to continue in our own homes- scarring, wounding, and killing our own children, our own future.
And then there is Glauce. Such a complicated figure. She serves to contrast Jason and Medea - but we learn she is no better. Obviously intelligent, she fails at real life - real mess - real relationships. While seeking a middle ground (so easy to do when standing on higher ground) she fails, as many "do-gooders" will, to fully recognize the situation before her. The dangers and pitfalls remain unseen and unimagined. Like a social worker who fails to research the area/culture where one practices, she assumes all hurts are just like hers -that all parents are just like hers, and that all women are just like her. We are Glauce. We navigate our culture as if it is all familiar territory and the people in it just like us. And in so doing, we feed the very fire that will, in the end, consume us as well.
And Hera. Greek gods and goddesses have always seemed aloof, uncaring and distant. Above it all. Yet, THIS Hera steps into OUR world - into our mess. Channeled by the prayers of sacrificed Glauce, Hera "rescues" Medea. But it is not so much a rescue as it is a claiming - an owning - a recognizing. This is quite different in its intent than "rescuing". Again, we are forced to confront our own world - our own culture. Who CLAIMS us? Where do we turn for the "fairness" meted out by a Goddess? As Jesus walked with mankind and felt the cruel attacks of man, so to Hera steps forth as sympathetic deity –one who has felt the wounds of the penitent. The goddess who suffers serial infidelity and betrayal from her husband breaks through the veil to claim a kinship to Medea – to the “aging woman” in OUR world. In a manner she could not enforce in her own world of gods and goddesses, Hera enters onto Earth’s stage and enforces the justice or fairness she sees fit. And oh, how desperately we feel the need for some intervention, some overarching balance or structure to the chaos presented by Jason and Medea. Yet, much like rulings in today’s judicial system, we are left questioning the authorities and the final decisions that rule the lives of others – as they ultimately rule our own.
This family – this collection of characters – this small cross-section stands as a warning sign in OUR world. Flashing lights and warning bells alert us – proclaiming the destruction that lies ahead: the ruination of OUR world and OUR families. THIS play and THIS production does so much more than “entertain”. As audience, we are confronted with ourselves – a powerful reflection of a culture that is tending toward madness and despair, murder and regret. THIS Medea steps out of the dust of ancient storytelling and slaps the spectator – forces them to wake up and be present in THIS world. Wake up, before it is too late. Before we realize that we have murdered our children and are left with ruin and tragedy.
I want to thank you. Thank you for a marvelous production. For a show that is continuing to spark conversations in my home. A show that makes me want to grab people off the street and bring them to the theatre. I felt the need to write this because I want to let you know how very important what you do is – not just to me as an audience member – but to the audience as members of a larger society. THIS is the purpose of drama.
Most Sincerely and with Deepest Appreciation,
Becky Roppelt