Fest fodder

Rating: NNNNNMcKenna's magic MEDEA, by Euripides, adapted by Robinson Jeffers, directed by Miles Potter, with Seana McKenna, Scott Wentworth, Robert Benson,.


Rating: NNNNN

McKenna’s magic

MEDEA, by Euripides, adapted by Robinson Jeffers, directed by Miles Potter, with Seana McKenna, Scott Wentworth, Robert Benson, Rita Howell and John Dolan. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to October 1. $60.50-$67.50. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNNN

If every production of Greek tragedy were as powerful as Stratford’s version of Medea, we wouldn’t wait years between one revival and the next. Euripides’ version of the tale of the outcast princess Medea, who takes the harshest revenge on her husband Jason, becomes sharply contemporary in Robinson Jeffers’s adaptation.

Director Miles Potter’s take on the legend is generally a secure one, right from the opening moments, when the use of masks reminds us of the play’s classical origins. Potter underlines the hunger for power that drives Jason (Scott Wentworth, who could double for an oily CEO) and demonstrates the ease with which Medea bends the play’s two rulers, Creon (Robert Benson) and Aegeus (John Dolan), to her will.

But it’s Seana McKenna’s brilliant Medea — an outsider clad in black, red and gold, a contrast with the white-garbed others around her — who illuminates this production. Going from high-pitched curses to heart-rending wails, bitter tears to disdainful sarcasm, McKenna creates a human figure with supernatural powers, a character who grows with silky menace into a demigod who mesmerizes the audience.

Though a few aspects of the play don’t succeed — both nurse and tutor are weak, and the choice to reduce the chorus to three women detracts from the power of their speeches — the seductive McKenna drives the piece to its horrific end. The result is a thrilling yet draining theatrical experience.

Losing the intermission would make it even more so.

Bloodless Titus

TITUS ANDRONICUS, by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Rose, with James Blendick, Diane D’Aquila, Peter Hutt, Marion Day, Scott Wentworth and Xuan Fraser. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to September 30. $60.50-$67.50. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NN

Declamation wins out over drama in Richard Rose’s production of Titus Andronicus, the rarely performed Roman tragedy that’s getting a lot of play these days, between Julie Taymor’s film and Shakespeare in the Rough’s park production.

Rose updates the action to 30s Fascist Italy, with emperor Saturninus (Scott Wentworth), a Mussolini clone down to the sneering scowl, leading a band of blackshirts. It’s clear from the start that the noble warrior Titus (James Blendick) can’t win in this world, especially when duplicitously warred against by the vengeful Tamora (Diane D’Aquila), the captured Goth queen who becomes Saturninus’s consort.

But Rose gives scant emotional life to his characters. Blendick is better when his world falls apart and he starts his own trickeries, but Wentworth — fine in his other roles this season — never moves beyond the two-dimensional and heavy-handed. The best work comes from D’Aquila, whose honeyed-poison words and actions grab the other characters as well as the audience, and Xuan Fraser as the preening, playful Aaron, the source of much of the play’s villainy.

Teresa Przybylski’s set design is typically insightful, with the silhouetted bodies of Titus’s sons — martyrs to an ideal Rome that has become corrupt — illuminated under the stage at crucial moments in the action. There’s much more that can be made of this bloody, revenge-ridden script. But by the time of the climactic banquet scene, which should be both grotesquely funny and horrific, the blood’s gone out of it.

Woolf’s wisdom

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN, by Virginia Woolf, adapted by Patrick Garland, directed by Micheline Chevrier, with Pamela Rabe. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to September 22. $25-$75. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNN

Virginia Woolf’s splendid feminist essay A Room Of One’s Own is a witty, well-argued call for a woman writer’s twin necessities — money and a room of her own, secluded from the demands of family and society.

Written in 1928 as a lecture to be delivered to the members of Girton and Newnham, the women’s colleges at Cambridge — Woolf had been invited to speak on women and fiction — the work is shot through with irony and passion. Patrick Garland’s stage adaptation picks up on the former but is often wanting in the latter.

The problem isn’t in Pamela Rabe’s performance or Micheline Chevrier’s direction, both of which fire up the material at key moments.

The piece is full of ideas, sometimes couched in that imagistic, almost poetic style that was peculiar to Woolf, but this performed work shies away from emotion more than it should.

A thoughtful read of the essay offers as engrossing a way of discovering the material as does this stage version.

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