Local Adaptation of "Medea" Storms Syracuse Stage for Virtual Cold Read Festival this Weekend

Jun 5, 2020

Medea and Jason, as portrayed in this 1759 painting by Charles Andre van Loo.
Credit commons.wikimedia.org

Syracuse Stage is presenting a new take on the 2,500 year-old Greek tragedy “Medea” as part of it “Cold Read Festival of New Plays.”  Theaters are not open yet, so the reading will be made available online for free through this weekend.  

Charles Martin’s translation was published last year.

"I decided to translate it into verse because the original was written in verse.  If you translate into verse, you capture a lot more of the original kinds of speach that were put into Greek tragedy.  We're coming into a time when verse plays are coming back.  Hamilton, for instance, is certainly written in verse.  It's incredibly memorable and grabbed us all."

Gillian Glasco plays Medea.  She says she hasn't done a cold read of Greek tragedy before.

"There is something a little more challenging when you are working in verse.  The choices and tactics you make with other people...they have to be really invested and more spontaneous.  

She says Medea is a character she’s familiar with…a mother trying to protect herself and her family.

"I have played troubled mothers before who've struggled with trying to figure out what is the best way to survive,  what is the best way to navigate what my function is going to be in society or within my family.  Those characters are always very complex."   

"Medea is a story of a woman who is abandoned by her husband.  She is a foreigner and a refugee," says Charles Martin.  "We should be sympathetic toward her.  But Medea makes it awfully difficult for us to have sympathy for her since she's determined to revenge herself violently on her husband who has abandoned her."

Glasco says even so, people might be able to identify with Medea.

Gillian Glasco reads the part of Medea.
Credit provided photo / Michael Davis, Syracuse Stage

"Even if they do the unthinkable, you can understand their pain.  They are looking not only for revenge, but they want to be seen, they want to be visible, and they don't want others to get away with their abuse any further."

"Euripides, who wrote Medea, doesn't make it easy for us," insists Charles Martin.  "He's kind of stretching us...are we going to be sympathetic toward her or sympathetic toward her husband, who's a braggart, deceitful, and untruthful.  At the end of the play, he's reduced to nothing."

The Cold Read Festival was originally going to be a staged reading, but like all live performances, it became virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   Martin looks at his translation in this format as an opportunity to make a mark as a new way of performing theater. 

"I always hoped it would be performed.  Needless to say, when I started working on it, the word Zoom had nothing to do with theater or with human communication."

"There is a feeling of a bit of disconnect," says Glasco.  "Theater is a very interactive, artistic effort.  So not having kinetic energy with other people you're acting with, or interacting with in Zoom is something to adjust to.  But again, that raises the stakes on you as the artist to make sure your choices are very specific, and in tune with the storytelling that's taking place."

Martin says he had a chance to be a silent and invisible spectator behind a small screen, and says he was moved by the brilliant performance of the cast, including Glasco's. 

Both Martin and Gillian Glasco see some parallels in this play or Greek tragedies in general to what we’re witnessing today with the pandemic and civil unrest. Glasco says like Medea, everyone has a breaking point when they see injustice.

"Those in power or see something to be gained will take advantage will violate those value systems and the contractual societal norms we've decided that we believe in.  When we start breaking those, when we start taking away people's humanity, we're left with a lot of frustration and anger, and it doesn't always get channeled in the most positive way."

"In Oedipus the King, a plague has struck the city, and the question is who's responsible for it," says Martin. "Is it the tyrant, the king of the city, or is it some other person's responsibility, or is it nobody's responsibility at all.  These are questions we're dealing with on an almost daily basis these days."

The reading of Medea will be made available at Syracusestage.org starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and anytime until 10:30 Sunday.  While the performance is free, Syracuse Stage is requesting donations to help continue its mission to tell stories during the closure. 

On Monday, June 8, at 7:00 p.m., Syracuse Stage will hold a live, online panel discussion where participants will have the chance to comment or ask questions.   The seven member panel includes translator Charles Martin, and performers Gillian Glasco and Matt Chiorini, who plays the husband Jason.   Artistic director Robert Hupp, associate artistic director Kyle Bass, director April Sweeney, and LightWork coordinator Cjala Surratt are also expected to be on hand.  It'll be moderated by Stage director of community engagement and education Joann Yarrow.