Oh, those mournful Greek tragedies. Created for the Dionysian festivals almost 3,000 years ago, the stories resonate through history because they speak the unspeakable truth, exposing festering wounds in the human condition. We mortals are full of fatal flaws: greed, over-zealous passion, jealousy, false pride, betrayal, and hubris. The characters in this play are as relevant today as they were when Euripides created them—maybe more so, because this translation by Kenneth McLeish/Frederic Raphael makes it easily accessible to contemporary audiences. What could be more heinous than murder and killing your own children and then getting away with it, because "the gods of the day" made it possible? It's still happening in different forms all over the world. In this innovative production, the bitter story unfolds from an ancient tomb, beginning after the characters have died. Following a visionary concept by director David Bridel, the actors rise from the grave by climbing out of the floor of Danila Korogodsky's haunting set. Shrouded in Lauren Kim's burial costumes and Barbara Matthews' ghoulish makeup, the actors are further dramatized by George Cybulski's light design.
The bloody action is foreshadowed by the requisite Greek Chorus (Sarah Goldblatt, Zoe Saba, Jason Martin); Maria Mayenzet is superb as the children's loving nurse; Gary Grossman is excellent as authoritarian King Kreon; and Richard Holden is perfect as the sensitive Aigeus. But it's Marjo-Riikka Makela who rivets the audience with her powerful performance of Medea. Jason's beautiful spurned wife, the mother of his children, the granddaughter of the sun god, she sacrifices everything for Jason. Her tour-de-force portrayal is remarkable, partly because the Finnish-born Marjo is a California transplant whose English is newly acquired. Also impressive is Mark Piatelli's balanced interpretation of Jason. Never before have we seen positive reasons for this arrogant Athenian to marry Creon's daughter: safe harbor and Greek citizenship for Medea and their outcast sons. This McLeish translation puts a human face on the pro-con dilemma of the protagonists. But tragedy it is, and tragedy it remains. The fatal destiny that was recorded in pre-Greece lives on in the 21st century.
"Medea," presented by California Repertory Company at the Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach. Wed.-Thu. 7 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m. (Also Tue. 7 p.m., Mar. 8.) Feb. 18-Mar. 12. $15-20. (562) 985-7000.