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Review by Jacob Coakley for Berkeley Daily Planet

'Medea' haunts UC Theatre excitingly

By Jacob Coakley, Special to the Daily Planet (05-03-02)

It’s good to see the UC Theatre back on its feet. Thanks to the Shotgun Players’ production of "Medea," the historic theater on University Avenue is once again home to audiences. Shotgun pulled off a coup renovating the space and adapting it to their needs, and also they’ve renovated "Medea" – a classical play which, tragically, always seems timely.

From the moment you walk up to the theater you know this will be no straight-laced revenge tale. Perhaps emboldened by Impact Theatre’s successful re-working of "The Bacchae," Patrick Dooley’s Shotgun Players have hired Mr. Russ Blackwood to give this piece an ironic bite. The coming attractions windows of the theater sport satiric society newspaper columns filling us in on Jason and Medea’s exploits and his abandonment of her. And as you walk in the theatre itself Mellie Katakalos’ set, small in the cavernous space – which is a good thing – is effectively painted to look like the entrance to a haunted house. With ominous music from the antique reed organ – played by the composer Don Seaver the night I saw the show – and Medea’s off-stage wailing, the play begins.

Suzanne Voss’s Nurse has the unlucky task of exposition, but her desperation for Medea and her desire of peace for Medea is always present, which lends urgency to her tale and her character through out the show. The chorus (Kenya Briggs, Bekka Fink, and Nina Auslander) enter next, bedecked in flowers and fruit and singing in three-part harmony. They, as happy Hellenes, only wish to help Medea. They try to prove this throughout the show with songs that are meant to help her, but invariably insult her instead.

But it is Creon, played by Louis Landman who sets the day in motion when he announces to Medea, played by Beth Donohue, that she is to be banished from Corinth to make life easier for Creon’s daughter and her new husband, Jason, Medea’s ex.

Medea doesn’t take this news well.

When Jason comes onstage to plead with Medea – he wishes they could still be friends – the play hits its comedic peak. Jason Frazier plays Jason the Argonaut as a charismatic entitle buffoon who can do whatever he wishes because he is blessed by the gods. His arrogance coupled with his utter ignorance into the nature of a foreign culture as represented by Medea and his subsequent abuse of her eventually brings his ruin. It is to Jason Frazier’s credit that he conveys all this humorously.

The Nurse brings Ageus, ruler of Athens to see Medea in hopes that he will grant Medea sanctuary. When Ageus arrives on-stage he is comically portrayed by Michael Carreiro as an impotent fool. In a vaudevillian give and take sequence Medea convinces Ageus to offer her sanctuary. Ageus agrees. With protection granted Medea quickly spirals downward on her course and the opportunities comedy grow fewer as the violence nears.

As the play approaches its climax Heather Basarab’s lights become even starker, creating huge shadows and lines of black and white on the theatre’s ceiling and walls and an impending sense of doom becomes palpable.

In the end, it’s hard not to wonder whose tragedy this is. Medea has exacted her revenge and seems calmer and more pleased than ever. It is Jason who is truly the broken one. He has truly lost everything: his power, his home and his children; all through an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and his inability to understand a foreign personage. In these times, it’s hard not to draw parallels.

"Medea" plays Thursdays through Sunday now through June 1 at the UC Theatre, 2036 University Ave. Call 704-8210 for reservations or visit


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