February 22, 2017
Love, parenting and murder: Undergraduate Theater Society stages ‘Medea’ from translation by UW classics professor
The University of Washington Undergraduate Theater Society (UTS) will undertake this Greek classic in a production directed by Chris Mowers running Feb. 23 through March 5 in the Cabaret Theater of Hutchinson Hall, home of the School of Drama.
Based on myths and first produced in 431 B.C., Medea is the story of a princess and mother in the ancient kingdom of Colchis whose husband, Jason, leaves her and marries another. Banished into exile and her position threatened, Medea takes revenge by murdering her husband’s new wife as well as her own children by him.
The UTS production is based on a translation published in 1999 by Ruby Blondell, UW professor of classics, as part of the anthology “Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides.” Blondell said her goal as translator was “to be as accurate as possible while remaining readable and pleasant to the ear.”
She added, “That might sound obvious, but a lot of translations try to channel the ‘spirit’ of the original, or to make it ‘contemporary,’ in ways that end up distorting much of what was in the original. The language of my translation is not super-modern, but I try not to sound antiquated.”
Blondell said she also worked “to provide an extensive cultural scaffolding for understanding the meaning of the script.”
Playing the difficult title role is student Jordan Kerslake, a senior in drama performance. Asked how she prepares for such a part, Kerslake said, “It is a tough mindset to get into, for sure, but being able to empathize with someone who has had an important promise broken and who is being exiled — all the emotions that go with that was where I started.”
Also, she said, she has been watching the news: “Seeing the deportation of immigrants trying to flee from war and hearing their stories really brought a modern and terribly sad perspective to Medea’s character.”
UTC publicity notes written by the director underscore this theme: “This is the story of what happens when an extraordinary woman finds herself forced to take action against a system which denies her agency based solely on her gender and her nationality.
“With sentiments that resonate as surprisingly modern and topical in a volatile political climate, Euripides invites us to examine the consequences of a woman, an immigrant, breaking out of the role which a patriarchal society has forced her to play.”
In a 1994 review of a major production of the play, New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote, “Let’s face it: Medea, though grievously wronged by her husband, Jason, is not exactly your prototypical battered wife. She’s the daughter of the King of Colchis, the granddaughter of the sun, a wife, a witch, a mother, a primeval terror in her own right … to play her mostly as victim is to humble one of world literature’s most titanic creations.”
All performances of “Medea” are at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $5 to $10.