Scott Wentworth and Seana McKenna mix it up in Medea.
MEDEA by Euripides, adapted by Robinson Jeffers, directed by Miles Potter (Mirvish/Manitoba Theatre Centre). Canon (244 Victoria). Previews from Friday (January 9), opens Sunday (January 11) and runs to February 8. $30-$85. 416-872-1212. See Opening.
In the legend, Medea is betrayed by her husband, Jason, and takes revenge on those around her. It's usually Jason who gets blamed.
But actor Scott Wentworth was surprised when, performing the play at Stratford in 2000 opposite Seana McKenna, he kept hearing from women that they loved his Jason because he was so mean.
"Mean?" he says. "Mean? I'm not the one who kills the kids."
Judge for yourself in the remount of poet Robinson Jeffers's 1947 adaptation of Euripides' tragedy.
"It was pretty racy stuff for the 40s," says Stratford veteran Wentworth. "Those were the days when people went to see the new Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, yet this Medea had a successful commercial Broadway run with Judith Anderson and John Gielgud.
"Director Miles Potter chose this version because it lives in English the way a lot of Greek translations don't; some sound so intellectual, which just isn't right for the passions that erupt in this play."
Wentworth, an actor/writer who's as much at home in musicals as dramas, knows that what audiences really respond to in Medea is the articulation of female rage and powerlessness in a patriarchal society.
"But like all great works, the play operates as a linear story and also on a mythic level, where human beings deal with gods on a regular basis. Jason's not just one man. He's every philandering husband, every male who puts realpolitik ahead of emotional commitments. Today he'd be the guy who stays late at the office and misses his children's school play."
The character doesn't have a dramatic arc the way Shakespeare's tragic figures do, continues Wentworth.
"He sees himself as an avenger and discovers, in true Greek tragedy fashion, that he's personally responsible for his actions.
"My challenge as an actor is to come onstage in the final scene and allow myself to be beaten. Your instinct as a performer and as a human being is to state your case, to argue for what you believe. Jason can't do that; it's as if he hits a brick wall that allows him no recourse."