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Leon's Productions
Alice In Wonderland
The Hairy Ape
Martini Ceremony
Moby Dick (Norfolk)
The Sea
The Grapes Of Wrath
Moby Dick (Alaska)
The Tempest
Moby Dick (Japan)
MEDEA Robinson Jefferies
ODU Theatre, February 13 - March 1, 1998
Directed by Leon Ingulsrud
Set by Tom Brock
Lights by Phil Watson
Sound by Leon Ingulsrud/Konrad Winters
Costumes by Margaret Cheney

MEDEA was my third production as a guest artist at Old Dominion University. I was interested in doing a Greek Tragedy. Greek Tragedy is basic and I think we have to keep revisiting it as theatre artists. This being said I don't like most productions I see of Greek Tragedy. They are often more interesting theoretically than they are theatrically.
For this production I used the Robinson Jefferies addaptation of the play (which I liked because despite it's problems, it is wrestleing with something other than the issues of translation), to which we added one scene which the chorus created out of transcripts of the Susan Smith trial. My primary directorial interest in this production was the nature of the chorus. Jeffers wrote the addaptation with single chorus/narrarators in mind, but I was interested in investigating the group choral dynamic, so we created a nine member chorus (6 women, 3 men) who begin the production in modern dress and serve as a sort of middle ground between audience and action.
Many of the cast (including the rather stunning Deborah Wallace who played the lead) had worked with me before on Macbeth and/or The Hairy Ape.

The production won a number of awards including awards for Deb's Medea and the Sound design I designed with Konrad Winters.

Greek Tragedy has at it’s core the elemental beating of the human heart. Anybody, living a human life in any culture, anywhere has to deal with the issues raised by the Greek Classics. They are as universal as our biology.
These plays deal with mythical figures engaged in struggles that go to the very essence of our existence as a species. The passions of these texts emerge not out of the psychology of “characters” but rather out of the very blood of our animal nature. That these passions have endured as the most fundamental templates for everything from Freudian complexes to almost every fictitious character in our theatrical-literary-cinematic pantheon, is testament to their fundamental trans-cultural validity.

Records of ancient Greek drama during the golden age of Greek Tragedy that produced such works as MEDEA, are incomplete at best. What we do have is some of the texts. We have almost no practical knowledge about how the plays were performed, and there is no extant performance tradition. Even Aristotle, who’s Poetics is fundamental to our understanding of Greek Tragedy is more helpful to the writer than to the actor (Umberto Eco notwithstanding, I often wonder what effect the loss of Aristotle’s writings on comedy, has had on our culture.).
It is this lack of a performance tradition in the West that led so many theatre artists of this century to turn to ancient techniques of Asian traditions to unlock the power of these Greek plays. It was this cross-fertilization that formed the basis for much of the work of the avant-garde theatre artists of the 1980s, including my own teacher Tadashi Suzuki. Suzuki’s work with Greek Tragedy was in turn strongly influenced by the work on the same subject by perhaps the most significant American performing artist; Martha Graham.
Looking around at American culture (which is not limited to culture in the United States), I am struck by a seeming dysfunction of fiction. We seem unable to invest fiction with truth. Perhaps because of a lack of a strong artistic tradition native to American soil, we deal with the deeper issues of our identity not in the gallery, theatre or concert hall, but in the court room and evening news.
Somehow, events which we think of as having “actually happened” have more meaning in our lives than the work of artists. The arts are frivolous baubles, with no serious social role beyond providing moments of distraction from “real” life.
But yet, when I read the news or watch television talk shows, I see the plots of classical plays being played out over and over. We seem endlessly fascinated by the O.J.s, Susan Smiths and Kenneth Stars. And when we tire of talking about them, we talk about how tired we are of talking about them.
In the classical literature of the theatre we have these same stories, elevated to a noble realm, for all to see. In the theatre, we come together to watch actors step into the path of the very passions that would destroy us in “real” life, and lay bare the human results.
The theatre does not seek to provide answers, only to ask questions at a more profound level.
MEDEA deals with an act so contrary to any social order that no culture anywhere could support it. An act that cuts against the primal grain of every biological imperative, religious precept and moral principal in existence.

This play doesn't ask us to condemn, sympathize or even understand. It asks us to do something that is at once much simpler and more complicated. It asks us to watch.

Leon Ingulsrud, February 1998

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