Euripides' Medea is considered one of the great plays in Western literature even though at its premiere, in 431 B.C., Athenian audiences reportedly weren't all that enthusiastic, because the playwright had created his own variations on the traditional story.
But you can see why Medea endures in an impressively staged and perceptively interpreted version presented by Cup-A-Jo Productions. The company name may suggest light entertainment, but these substantial performances do credit to producer Joanna Lowe, director Everett Lowe and a very capable cast.
Greek hero Jason, having captured the legendary Golden Fleece with help from the magical powers of foreign-born Medea, abandons her and their two sons. He marries Glauce, the daughter of Corinth's King Creon. Medea vows revenge, cautioned against it by a chorus of Corinthian women. Nonetheless, she kills Glauce, Creon and the sons.
As with other Greek tragedies, audiences witness inevitable, dark events, making the experience an enduring object lesson in the perils of fate. Consider this no simple museum visit, because two timeless themes are skillfully made to emerge. Most noticeably, the dialogue concentrates on the disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society. Secondly, Medea, having set in motion her horrible machine to kill Glauce and Creon, wants to unwind the clock and cannot. Be careful what you wish for.
The production evokes both ritual and real drama. The actors render the story and text with depth and clarity while imaginative, well-executed choreography by Alyssa Herron and excellently designed costumes by Leah Klocko provide constant visual interest.
Jody O'Donnell stands out as Jason, giving him true and varied depth, making him seem despicably self-centered but later earnestly reasonable. Joanna Lowe, in the role of Medea, delivers the text intelligently and believably, even though she doesn't much call forth pity or terror, the two prime aims of classic Greek tragedy. In supporting roles, Diana Ifft gives serious dimension to the children's nurse, and Vince Ventura expertly delivers the long narration of how Glauce and Creon died, a traditional device for keeping physical violence off-stage.
Director Lowe and choreographer Herron do silhouette back-lit staging of the murders; it's a break with tradition, if inventive. Lowe and costume designer Klocko also have some but not all characters inexplicably wearing masks. Moreover, the program book carelessly fails to credit translator/adapter Philip Vellacott. These caveats aside, it looks as though we should take Cup-A-Jo productions seriously and look forward to what comes next.
Medea continues through Sun., Aug. 23. University of Pittsburgh Studio Theatre, Cathedral of Learning, Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Blvd., Oakland. 412-334-3126 or Cupajoprod@gmail.com