Theater » Theater Feature

Catching Up

Medea kills; Hattiloo starts strong.



Jennifer Vellenga's contemporary staging of Medea at Circuit Playhouse should be much more effective than it is. TV news is frequently dominated by tales of missing or abused children. After years of controversial rule, it now appears that Washington's Republican majority will finally be brought low by a tawdry sex scandal involving underage boys. Americans fetishize not only their children but also those who would seek to harm them. So why is it that Euripides' ancient tale of a jealous woman who slaughters her own to get back at the man who did her wrong falls so flat?

Tim McMath's minimal design couldn't be more effective. Using only a door frame, a little red wagon overflowing with toys, and a lot of astroturf, he presents us with a poetic, nonjudgmental vision of suburbia. Yvonne Same's Medea is a complex creature eloquently expressing her rage and appropriately conflicted by the dark ramifications of her murderous thoughts. And Aaron Lamb does an excellent job presenting Medea's philandering hubby Jason as a remorseless social climber ready to destroy his family in order to improve his station in life. In spite of all this, Medea never lives up to the expectations of a play that has gripped our imaginations for over 2,000 years.

Although Medea's chorus features a trio of outstanding character actors, the group is never fully integrated into the action. Instead, the three women -- presumably Medea's meddling neighbors -- clasp hands and skip about the stage reciting their lines prettily. Greek tragedies live and die by the director's ability to use the chorus effectively. Although Vellenga's vision falls short of the mark, this bloodbath of a play is still an excellent way for classically minded folks not inclined to visit haunted houses to get in the Halloween spirit.

Through October 15th

Three weeks ago, when the Hattiloo Theatre, a tiny but well-appointed playhouse in the Edge district, opened its doors to the public, audiences were treated to a simple and simply effective production of Samm-Art Williams' Home. The dark comedy, which closes this week, is an auspicious debut, and anyone interested in what Memphis' newest theater has to offer should seriously consider making reservations to ensure a place in one of the Hattiloo's 70 tightly packed seats.

Home is an Afrocentric answer to Forrest Gump, minus the shallow, sugar-coated philosophy. It tells the story of Cephus Miles, a gentle spirit who spends more time rolling dice in the cemetery than he does in church and who dreams of an uncomplicated life working the soil and loving his sweet Patty Mae. After refusing to go to Vietnam because "Thou shalt not kill," Cephus is sent to prison and branded a traitor. The reputation dogs him far beyond the prison walls, costing him his job, his health, his land, his love, and his self-respect.

Home follows Cephus from the rich bottomland of rural North Carolina to the electric streets of Harlem in the early 1970s and back again using only the simplest set and costume elements and the force of Williams' heavily poeticized language. If it's an example of what we can expect from the Hattiloo Theatre, good things are clearly on the horizon.

Through October 15th

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