December 11, 2002

by Clive Barnes

The Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W 47th St, (212) 719-4099

Mourning becomes Electra, but do sunglasses become Medea? The answer is a slightly guarded yes. Euripides' play is a savage tragedy of love, entitlement, lust and revenge—particularly revenge.

The Abbey Theater production of "Medea" that arrived on Broadway last night is strong on revenge. This modern-dress production, complete with swimming pool, is also strong on irony—hence the sunglasses that the ever-remarkable Fiona Shaw wears as Media.

Director Deborah Warner goes to some effort to express the modernity of Euripides, innovative not only in his own Athenian day in the fifth century BC, but contemporary even now.

The story is, after "Oedipus," the most familiar of Greek tragedies. Media is brought to Greece by Jason, having helped him acquire the Golden Fleece and borne him two sons. Jason repays her loyalty by marrying the daughter of Creon, the Kin of Corinith. Medea repays his treachery by poisoning the princess and Creon, then butchers her young sons.

As this version ends, Medea remains by the pool, flicking bloodstained water at Jason.

Warner's ending is more realistic than Euripides', and its tone is in keeping with Warner's feminist reading of the play.

On the whole, it works because of Shaw's manic performance—which in part is extraordinarily, and intentionally funny. Never have I seen a "Medea" that got so many laughs or proved so thoroughly entertaining.

But when the time comes for Shaw to pull out all stops, she does so with raw emeotion and a sense of ineffable danger.

She is beautifully matched by Jonathan Cake's Jason, who moves wonderfully from self-centered smugness to horror.

This is a new, more knowing, more cynical Medea than Broadway saw with Judith Anderson, Zoe Caldwell or Diana Rigg. Less tragic? Perhaps. But it is well worth seeing.