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Something Old, Something New

IBP captures the fury of a woman scorned in Medea

At the Axiom, that cauldron of a theater, the folks of Infernal Bridegroom Productions are conjuring the ancient Greeks to help them create something entirely new. Under the guidance of Euripides, one of the oldest playwrights in Western civilization, director/adaptor Charlie Scott has created what may be the most innovative, exciting and outrageously original piece of showmanship to grace a Houston stage this year: his dangerously delicious Medea, featuring the most infamous scorned woman of all time.

Medea's story is as old as love itself. She meets Jason, a hot guy from Corinth, and does all sorts of nasty things (including murdering her own brother) to save him when he gets in trouble. She bears him two children and turns him into a sort of warrior-star. But once Jason's got lots of status and power, he casts her off like yesterday's laundry and marries a young blond, who happens to be Creon the king's daughter, just so that he can get more power. All this bad business happens before Medea first walks on the stage. And when we meet her -- dressed in black, with her hair wild and her dark eyes practically boiling -- it's pretty clear that she's already crazy mad. And soon enough, we know this roaring woman is determined to do some real damage. Medea wants payback, the blood-curdling kind, in the worst sort of way.

Into this ancient tragedy Scott has woven some gloriously surprising and contemporary gestures that feel organic but are completely new to the tale. Before the houselights go down, we watch a silent film in which Medea (played by a beautifully raging Tamarie Cooper) and Jason (Jeff Miller) drive through a wasteland of refineries in a bleak, foreboding landscape. The last scene before the play starts is a close-up of Medea's stormy face -- her eyes filling with salty tears. The image is chilling, and the music floating beneath it is enough to make a heart tremble. Something very bad is coming, that much is clear.

Suchu dancers act out the internal struggles of the 
enraged Medea (Tamarie Cooper).
George Hixson
Suchu dancers act out the internal struggles of the enraged Medea (Tamarie Cooper).

Film is used again to develop the character of Medea's nursemaid, played here by two actors. In the film version, Tanya Lunstroth makes a gorgeously aging, sorrow-filled matriarch, moving about her modern-day house, remembering Medea's story with haunting regret. On the stage, the nurse played by Charlesanne Rabensburg makes it clear that the violence of Medea's pain is urgently present and dangerous. She wrings her hands in dreadful worry over what's come over Medea since Jason's betrayal.

Enacting Medea's internal struggles are four dancers (Helen Cloots, Nicole Craft, Jessi Harper and Tina Shariffskul) choreographed by Suchu Dance artistic director Jennifer Wood. This odd addition to the play works like poetry -- it is often inexplicably moving. The dancers are beautiful to look at, and their strange, fluid movements include everything from hissing like cats to tilting sideways in straight-back chairs.

There are many other surprises in this production, including the chorus -- typically the most dreadfully dull part of any Greek play -- which has been turned into a pack of pot-smoking, bizarre-looking creatures, who are often very funny. Batman, of all things, struts out in the second act. And Creon (Paul Locklear), the doomed, power-hungry king who banishes Medea from Corinth, bears a striking resemblance to George W. Bush as he makes his cruel statements about Medea's "voodoo" capabilities.

All these seemingly disparate pieces add up to a deliciously rich night of theater. Never has Medea's bad behavior made as much emotional sense as it does here, in this production. Never has a woman scorned been so riveting or her bloody vengeance so satisfying.

Double Your Rancor

The Mineola Twins never has been considered Paula Vogel's best work. The strange little comedy about women's changing roles in American politics is strident, preachy and a little too obvious for many people's tastes. It spanks the religious right and questions the weird, pot-smoking liberalities of the left as it tells the story of Myra and Myrna, twin sisters who embody opposite ends of the political spectrum. But you don't have to be a political animal to enjoy the production now waving across the boards like a brightly colored flag at Stages Repertory Theatre. The show, directed by a ruefully irreverent Rob Bundy, is a snapping romp across a wildly diverse and often violent historical landscape that includes everything from Patty Hearst-style bank robbers to abortion-clinic bombers.

Heading up the assault is Shannon Emerick, who plays both uptight Myrna and wild-child Myra with equal charm. Her good girl Myrna huffs and puffs as she starts out life dreaming of the suburbs, only to end up scared to distraction by "tofu-eating, fetus-flushing femi-Nazis." And Emerick is enchanting as the wicked Myra, who lifts her chin to the wind as she talks about sleeping with the football team and declares that she wants to spend her life doing "everything people tell me I can't."

These very different American perspectives are shaped by lovers and children. And, of course, each sister eventually picks a profession that fits her politics. Myrna ends up a right-wing talk show host, while Myra heads a Planned Parenthood branch. As history tells us, both stories are riddled with violence. And despite their differences, the sisters have a spooky connection: The nightmare sequences in which they dream each other's lives are some of the best moments of the play. Oh, and the ending is a blast, in more ways than one. -- Lee Williams

 
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