A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the March 27, 2015 edition of The Monitor
I still remember the first time I read Medea, arguably the greateA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the March 27, 2015 edition of The Monitor
I still remember the first time I read Medea, arguably the greatest work by Euripides, that cutting edge Greek dramaturge whose psychologically complex, agnostic, pacifist and arguably feminist writing confused the dickens out of his countrymen. My first reaction was, “Hey, I know this story … Grandma Garza used to tell me it when I was little. Medea is la Llorona!”
Clearly the truth is more complex, but the parallels are obvious, as is the implicit criticism of the roles society forces women into.
The play was first performed in 431 BCE in a competition against Sophocles and Euphorion (son of Aeschylus). Medea didn’t win, but its flouting of the norms of tragedy at the time left a mark in the minds and heart of those in attendance. Its impact has gradually grown down the millennia, with modern critics and writers finding great power in the story (as with Chicano playwright Luís Alfaro’s recent adaptation Mojada).
Set a few years after the retrieval of the Golden Fleece, the play opens with Medea’s discovery that her lover Jason plans to marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. Medea, a fierce woman from the coast of the Black Sea, was key in Jason’s victories and successes, and has given him two sons. No wonder she rages at this betrayal.
Creon shows up, informing Medea that he is exiling her from Corinth. Wheels already spinning in her mind, she begs for one day to get her affairs in order and the king agrees. Jason then comes around, making a weak attempt at explaining his actions: Glauce’s a princess and Medea’s just a barbarian woman. She can still be his lover, of course. Medea scoffs at this cruel offer and tells him to do whatever he wants, but to get ready for the consequences.
Medea then puts her plan into action. Smearing poison inside a lovely dress and coronet, she feigns repentance and forgiveness, convincing Jason to give the items to his new bride as a gift so that Glauce will get her father to rescind the decree of exile. Glauce puts them on and dies; her father clutches her corpse close, poisoning himself as well.
It is at this point that Medea realizes she must go further to avenge herself against Jason, cutting the ties between them forever in such a way that he will be devastated.
She decides to kill her sons.
Jason, learning of the deaths of Creon and Glauce, rushes to confront Medea, only to discover the murder of his children. In a scene that must have blown Greeks’ minds, Medea appears above the stage in the chariot of sun-god Helios (her grandfather) to claim the bodies of the boys and take them with her as she leaves Jason to his devastation.
Structured in a series of two-person scenes that pit the downtrodden Medea against members of the patriarchy whom she deftly maneuvers like pawns, this essential tragedy is one of the first texts to grapple with the issues of marginalized women and the lengths to which they often must go to reclaim their voice and autonomy. Harrowing and uncomfortable, Medea is nonetheless essential reading....more
After the 2011 HBO production of his play The Sunset Limited and last year’s Hollywood film of his script The Counselor, Cormac McCarthy’s work as a pAfter the 2011 HBO production of his play The Sunset Limited and last year’s Hollywood film of his script The Counselor, Cormac McCarthy’s work as a playwright began to intrigue me. Known more for his description-laden prose, McCarthy (arguably one of the most important American authors of the late 20th century) doesn’t at first blush seem like the kind of guy who could pare his style down enough for the stage.
Clearly, though, he is fascinated by drama. He was likely inspired by director Richard Pearce, who approached him in 1974 to write the script for an episode of the PBS series Visions. The resulting two-hour episode, which aired in 1977, secured an Emmy nomination for McCarthy.
The only other work in this genre he has produced is the 1995 play The Stonemason. Set in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1970s, this five-act tragedy centers on the Telfairs, a family of stonemasons. The protagonist in Ben, who has abandoned his college studies of psychology to apprentice himself to Papaw, his grandfather, who even at the age of 101 continues to practice “the trade” with the younger man.
The two live in the house of Ben’s father, who runs the family stonemasonry business. With them reside Ben’s wife, mother and sister, single mom to Soldier, a troubled teen. While the plot nominally follows various problems that threaten to tear the family apart, the core of the play is the relationship between grandfather and grandson.
While many critics focus on the unusual monologues given by Ben while the actor’s double carries out a sort of dumbshow, I was drawn more to the interactions between Ben and Papaw. The older man shares a unique vision of the world predicated on his fealty to the craft. Stonemasons, differently than other stone workers, pull stone directly from the ground where they work and set those undressed stones, whole and unhewn, using mortar when needed, but seeking to use gravity and physics ("the warp of the world") to hold masonry in place.
Papaw implies that this is the true will of God and that human attempts to chisel the world into other shapes are doomed to fail, being effaced by time and tragedy (a major theme of all of McCarthy's work). The blows to the Telfairs arise from their betrayals of the family trade and from Ben's insistence on trying to control and reshape the lives of his loved ones. Tellingly, though a fine stone mason, Ben violates the journeyman code that insists a man complete the work that can be done during the course of a normal day, leaving for the morrow the work that remains. Arrogantly or anxiously, he wants to get things done as quickly as possible.
McCarthy's novels are replete with spot-on, terse dialogue as well as odd philosophical pseudo-speeches, so it's no surprise that the play excels in those areas. Some of the secondary characters (Soldier and Ben's father) are too one-dimensional for their fates to have the impact needed, however, and the relationship between Ben and his wife feels jarringly out of sync. However, though it doesn't approach the impact of other portraits of working-class African-Americans (like A Raisin in the Sun), the ideas in The Stonemason make it well worth reading....more
The translation's of journeyman quality, in my opinion, but this is a strong play by one of ancient Greece's most modern sensibilities. I've always beThe translation's of journeyman quality, in my opinion, but this is a strong play by one of ancient Greece's most modern sensibilities. I've always been moved by Andromache's story, and this adds another piece to the puzzle of her plight....more
OMG!!! ROFLMAO!!! Well, that's what my students' reaction to reading Plautus' famous play of mistaken identity (the one from which all others are stolOMG!!! ROFLMAO!!! Well, that's what my students' reaction to reading Plautus' famous play of mistaken identity (the one from which all others are stolen, the ur-slapstick, if you will). You really need to read this guy's stuff. It's a bit risque, but it will have you in stitches. Early Roman comedy... better than any Eddie Murphy film out there....more