by Chad Jones for Oakland Tribune
/ ANG Newspapers
fill UC Theatre with grand, ghoulish
stars Frightfully good
By Chad Jones
Here in the Bay Area, you'll find
a ballet and two plays devoted to
her. You might say we're living
in a "Medea"-saturated world.
The San Francisco Ballet just opened
"Damned," a dance version of Euripides'
2,400-year-old revenge drama. And
both the Butterfield 8 company of
Walnut Creek and Berkeley's Shotgun
Players are performing Robinson
Jeffers' wonderfully accessible
1947 free adaptation of the play.
For shotgun, not into its 10th anniversary
season, the play is an inspired
choice. Ferocious, juicy and even
funny, "Medea" brings out the
best in this intrepid company.
This was to have been the second
production in Shotgun's new downtown
Berkeley theater space. But permit
problems forced the company to be
creative in securing a temporary
In the case of "Medea," the search
has ended in an ideal space. The
play began performances last weekend
at the UC Theatre, an 85-year-old
theater in downtown Berkeley. Suitably
chilly and adorned with appropriate
Greek Revival-style adornments,
the cavernous space is perfect for
this highly theatrical endeavor.
All but 150 of the theater's 1,300
seats are roped off, and set designer
Melpomene Katakalos has opted to
create her own round performance
platforms rather than use the theater's
The production's abundant stage
smoke swirls around the stage and
then hangs almost motionless in
the still air of the UC as if in
preparation for the evil to come.
Heather Basarab's lights play up
the full melodramatic feel of the
production. She casts much of her
light from below, creating shadows
on faces, on the curtains behind
the stage on the ceiling far above.
Adding to the gothic creepiness
of the shadows is the eerie organ
score by Don Seaver (and performed
by Seaver himself on an old-fashioned
reed organ at Monday night's performance).
With the audience primed for "The
Phantom of the Opera" meets Greek
tragedy, director Russell Blackwood
goes to work.
Though faithful to the text and
spirit of Euripides, Blackwood manages
to have some fun with "Medea."
We know that the wronged Medea will
kill her two sons in retaliation
for her husband Jason's infidelity.
It's how you get there that makes
Ghoulish and grandiose, Shotgun
company member Beth Donohue gives
us a Medea that is equal parts Joan
Crawford, Norma Desmond and Judi
We first hear Medea off stage screaming
"Death!" and "Destruction!"
Then, after her grand entrance,
she puts on a show both for us and
for the people she sucks in to her
psychotic revenge machinations.
Donohue is a classic Medea, an actress
in love with <cm, ital>acting<cm,endital>
and a character relishing each morsel
of pain she endures and inflicts.
Smart and unhinged, Donohue throws
herself into the role, yet in her
frenzy, she manages to connect with
the primal force and horror of her
bloody deeds. When she calls her
sons "my little ponds of agony,"
she inspires a laugh and a cringe.
When she says "Hate is a bottomless
cup, and I will pour and pour,"
you believe her.
If you've got a strong Medea, you've
got a show, but the supporting performers
here are also strong. The chorus
_ Kenya Briggs, Bekka Fink and Nina
Auslander _ sing some wonderful
harmonies as they attempt to interject
some lovey-dovey sentiments into
Medea's nightmarish spiral.
With their blue lips and highly
floral outfits (wonderfully trashy
music video costumes by Keiko Shimosato)
the chorus members are good for
some laughs and some serious music.
Suzanne Voss has one of the more
difficult roles in a tragedy _ she's
the woman who wails almost non-stop.
But Voss, who comes across as a
warm, caring person, is up to the
As Jason, of the Golden Fleece fame,
Jason Frazier is believably callous
before he becomes a simpering wreck
of a man, and Michael Carreiro,
as Ageus, gets some nice laughs
when he gets suckered into granting
Medea asylum in Athens.
Not too brainy, not too garish,
Shotgun's "Medea" is just right.
As Medea herself says, "We must
not think too much. We go mad if
we think too much."
You can e-mail Chad Jones at email@example.com
or call (925) 416-4853.