Mad Medea, A Play for the Season

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By Pat Ganase 

(Originally published to the Trinidad Express 24/02/2017)

A play, a play, a play! Carnival is made for plays. Ye Saga of Merrie England. Paradise Lost. Sailors ashore. Bats and Butterflies. Every character has his role: dragon dance, midnight robber talk, jab molassie flinging whip, minstrels chatter, big bamcee dames lorraines, moko jumbies striding against the sky… It’s a long tradition prompting Errol Hill to write his “mandate for a national theatre.” Enter Rhoma Spencer’s Carnival Medea, a bacchanal, by way of Dr Shirlene Holmes remake of Euripides’ Medea. Every remake is an update just as every Carnival sees “an extra sequin or two on top the previous year’s (characterisation) … mas playing must be and bound to be a ritual.”

In the first place, Medea is not a woman to like.  She’s like a spider – black widow in her web – spinning her story, working out the threads of her own fate. When we meet her on Carnival Monday, she’s bite up, beside herself with spite and bitterness. At first, you are tempted to commiserate that she has been so mis-used, discarded by the man for whom she left her father’s home for whom she plotted and murdered.  But when we see how she is intent on alienating all who would comfort and advise her, it is hard to sympathise. Later on, when she reveals the plan to revenge herself on the man who has wronged her, you even wish that some external force – the Governor, the man from “down the main,” Jason, or one of the gods shadow dancing in her mind – would do her in, smite her. But no, Carnival Medea, a bacchanal, is a mas true to the classic Greek drama over 2000 years old, and cannot, does not, depart nor betray the personality.

Here is the woman unhinged by the ungrateful cavalier attitude of Jason whom she helped to possess the golden fleece. She is the mother of his two sons. Here is Jason, the boys’ father, a happy-go-lucky batonnier (stick fighter) planning to wed the Governor’s daughter to gain upward mobility in a new island.

Everything about Medea is thorny and repelling. She is the classic Carnival “baby doll” child mother from whom big men run, and other women turn their children’s faces away. She’s needy, wanting, inconsolable, the unmotherly mother who uses a child as bargaining chip to shame the man. Against her character, everyone else pales.

Even if you want to say, like the chorus of Macomeres, ease up girl, is Carnival, play a mas. There’s no other persona that Medea wants to be. She’s stuck in vengeance and retribution mode. And that’s a thing: how could anyone want or feel sympathy for her. As the play progresses, there’s more and more passionate protest, less and less reason. We witness a descent into madness, hell on earth.

If this were a feminist play, we could feel justified in the course of her actions. We could think, and say, Jason look for dat. But no one – and there are strong women throughout the play – can sway Medea by reason, or humanity. Not the Macomeres, a chorus of female conscience to Medea’s steely determination, played wonderfully by leading ladies in their own right, Cecelia Salazar, Marie Chan-Durity, Penelope Spencer and Susan Hannays-Abraham. Not the gods, the Orishas Shango, Ogun and Oshun. This is not a play about women’s rights. It is a plea for humanity, reasonableness, the order of life overturned during the mas for a look into the “diametre.”

The end is inevitable. The carnival is over. Medea has run her course, carries out her plot to take the lives of the innocent to spite those she feels have wronged her. Jason is beyond bereft.

For the two hours of the play, we are transported into another mind, a madness, a bacchanal. Spencer must be commended for the superb lyrics of her characters, her voice in Euripides mouth, for bringing to life strong performances like Nen and the Macomeres. She is also to be credited for the economy of the ensemble, cast, sound design and performance. Of course, the costuming is superb; and the technical production smooth and seamless. Carnival Medea, a bacchanal, is well worth your couple of Carnival hours.

Don’t miss the FINAL RUN of Carnival Medea: March 4 -5 at the Little Carib Theatre. Tickets $200

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