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`MEDEA’ PROVES DIRTY DEALINGS AREN’T MODERN PHENOMENON

SHARE `MEDEA’ PROVES DIRTY DEALINGS AREN’T MODERN PHENOMENON

Why should you roll out of bed on a weekend morning just to sit, at the crack of dawn, through a 2,500-year-old potboiler about a chauvinistic husband and his insanely vindictive wife?

Because it addresses - in no uncertain terms - such contemporary issues as sexual politics, dysfunctional families and even the awkward position of refugees and aliens.And all this time you thought these had just surfaced in the politically and socially turbulent '90s.

Well, some things never change, according to Classical Greek Theatre Festival founder, lecturer and dramaturg James T. Svendsen.

Consider the two central characters in Euripides' ancient mythological drama: Jason and Medea. They have virtually nothing in common with "Father Knows Best" or "The Donna Reed Show."

When the audience first sees Medea, she's pacing furiously the full length of the stage, her seething anger building rapidly. Seems that Jason, who lured her away from her homeland 10 years earlier and brought her to Corinth, has decided to leave her and their two young sons to marry the daughter of King Creon.

Love and sex have nothing to do with it, Jason contends. It's a simple matter of plain old greed. By marrying the king's daughter, he'll be financially secure.

But Medea sees things in a different light. She may be an alien in a strange land, but she has her wiles - and brother, does she know how to use them.

When King Creon confronts her with his own scheme - banishment forever - Medea goes right over the edge. She manipulates the king into granting her a 24-hour reprieve. That's all the time she needs to put her own grisly plans for revenge into action.

I won't go into all the unsavory details. But Jason, an obnoxious clod who pleads for Medea's understanding, should not have been surprised at his abandoned wife's ultimate revenge.

(Before the play itself has opened, Medea has slain and dismembered her own brother and scattered the body parts here and there in an effort to thwart being found by her father, then tricked Jason's cousins into killing their father, Uncle Pelias, who has squelched on Jason's promised inheritance.)

The cast for this University of Utah theater department production, guest-directed by Larry L. West, is polished and professional. Half the players are in various stages of the U.'s excellent Actor Training Program and most of the others are fairly recent graduates.

Trudy Jorgenson and Ogdenite Brad Schroeder portray Medea and Jason. (Both were seen recently in Salt Lake Acting Company's production of "Marvin's Room," also directed by West.)

Jorgenson is superb as the ultimate Scorned Woman, alternately ranting and raving one moment, quietly seducing and beguiling the next - all with one goal in mind: to repay Jason for shoving her aside.

Schroeder is also terrific as Jason, even though the role itself is overshadowed by Medea's over-the-top diatribes.

Medea minces no words in telling Jason that he's a spineless coward (yes . . . this is the same heroic Jason whose Argonauts once retrieved the legendary Golden Fleece). Jason, however, comes off as a condescending oaf.

Other standouts in the ensemble are Rene Thornton Jr. as Creon (a student actor who is surely destined for much bigger roles in the future); Holly Claspill as Medea's nurse, who narrates much of the proceedings, and Kent Gasser, in a commanding performance as Aegeus, the King of Athens, who promises to protect Medea - unaware of what she's plotting.

The traditional Greek chorus is an integral part of the action, narrating and moving the plot along to its dark and sordid climax.

Adding to the production's overall professionalism are Jeffrey Price's original music, Eddie Coe's simple, functional set; Catherine Zublin's stylistic costumes and Carolyn Wood's choreography.

- Utah tour dates:

- Wednesday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m., Kent Concert Hall, Utah State University, Logan (orientation lecture by James T. Svendsen at 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Auditorium).

- Friday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m., Allred Theatre, Weber State University, Ogden (orientation lecture at 6:30 p.m. in the Monson Theatre).

- Saturday, Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m., in the Richards Dance Building at Brigham Young University, Provo (lecture at 6:30 p.m. in the Pardoe Theatre).

The company will also travel to California for performances Oct. 21 and 23 in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz.

- Sensitivity rating: Some strong language; implied violence.