‘Medea’ gets audience riled up

The very few times that a performance has been booed at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, it has mainly been because of some «sacrilegious» mise-en-scene. Yet that was not the case when, last Friday and Saturday, a large segment of the audience noisily jeered the production of Euripides’ tragedy «Medea,» directed by the acclaimed Russian Anatoly Vasiliev and starring Lydia Koniordou in the title role. The performance committed the only unforgivable crime in theater: It was boring, incredibly so after a certain point, since it lasted three-and-a-half hours. We have seen boring performances in the past, both contemporary and classic ones, but this one was different. It was provocatively tiring as well as arrogantly long and hazy. The sets consisted of an all-red enclosed bullfighting arena, a rodeo to be precise, except that the «bull» had been replaced by a bicycle. The costumes were a mixture reminiscent of Asia, the Balkans and Iberia, with the clumsy black and white robes of the chorus prevailing. The chorus embarked on a hodge-podge of unrelated choreographies. The music – a very good work by Takis Farazis – was based on Smyrna songs and rebetika and was played by an orchestra arranged along the front of the arena. The acting was based on an unnatural delivery, which undermined almost all of the actors’ efforts, except that of Koniordou, who managed, with her amazing technique, to tame the director’s speech directions and turn them into an overwhelming interpretation, which indicated what a great role this could have been, were it not for the director’s overtly complicated vision. On both nights, the initially silent disapproval started with people leaving the theater even during the first half-hour. The dissatisfaction became vocal after two-and-a-half hours spent very patiently. The messenger’s speech, narrating how Medea’s poisoned gifts did away with her young rival and her father, was an open provocation to the audience. Performed in that strange delivery, while it was being repeated monotonously a second actor started narrating the same text in English and then a third one in French. It all resulted in an unbearable and challenging hubbub which would not stop, despite the protests that had already started. From that moment on, the relationship between the audience and the cast became antagonistic, whereupon each new stage challenge was cynically met with ironic laughter, applause, loud comments and cries of «Shame on you!» The audience was not even deterred by the fact that it was the poor actors who had to pay the price for all of this. When, at some point during the Friday performance, actor Nikos Psarras (who played the part of Jason) stopped and angrily exclaimed to the audience «Mercy!» there was an immediate reply from the upper seats: «That is what we say, too.» In the end, like icing on a cake, the chorus, acting in a ritual, brought out a boat and proceeded to tear it to pieces, in an allusion to Jason’s Argo. That caused somebody to shout «What a load of bull…» Unfortunately, the performance’s deeper, philosophical if not mystical meanings, were not depicted as clearly as the surface ones such as the boat, simply because the arrogant directorial vision smeared them with incomprehensible goings-on, including the final scene in which Medea «rises up» together with her children, alive, immortal in their mother’s sacrifice. The indescribable element of kitsh, intentionally funny, was the least misfortune in a manifestly sloppy and awkward ending.