A Review: The Audience and Elaboration on Medea

Myself with The Queen!

On February 7th, I attended Peter Morgan’s The Audience, a Theatre Calgary production directed by Miles Potter.

The design of the Max Bell Theatre gave way for an atmosphere where the audience became a “fly on the wall”, taking in the exclusive meetings between Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister. The angle of the seats, all toward the center of the stage, emphasized the privacy of the meetings. Max Bell, a proscenium theater with wrap-around seating on all three levels, gave audience members a glimpse into all angles of the production. When the curtain lifted, the proscenium arch framing the stage gave a sense of exclusion, creating a fourth wall between the actors and the audience. In this instance, the proscenium fit very well with the privacy of the Queen’s gatherings.

As the timestamp of the play alternated between Elizabeth’s youth as she ascended the throne at age 25 and her current age of 90, two actresses were required to play the sovereign. Actress, Seana McKenna, did an astounding job of introducing minute subtleties to reflect the aging Queen throughout the play. Specifically, the actress developed a slight limp, shifted uncomfortably in her wing-backed chair, and had a slower pace of speech to subtly convey her age. However, it was the Queen’s makeup and exquisite wigs that ultimately ensured McKenna succeed in the challenge of depicting four decades. Later in the play, her shorter, greying hair were reminiscent of the tolls that age has on the body. Similarly, the authoritative figure of the Queen was bolstered by extravagant furs and lavish robes.

The set of the action was topped with an elaborate, golden chandelier that exuded royalty. While the scene took place at Buckingham Palace, the two high-backed chairs at centre-stage were constants among the drama. The tall, vaulted ceilings decorated with ornate scaffolding transported the audience into the throws of London’s affluence, but also created a sense of loneliness at the aging woman in a sedentary palace. However, the change of scenery to Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s summer residence in Scotland, was accompanied by a change to deep coloured walls and plush carpets that brought about a more relaxed and content atmosphere. The lack of special effects, aside from a constant white light, added to the sensory experience by providing a realistic setting. Rather than being solely focused on the actor delivering his/her lines, the wide-panning light brought the audience’s focus to all details of the stage, including the exquisite setting.

The performance decisions for how the cast delivered their lines produced a feeling of reality, giving the audience a glimpse into the real-world conversations between parliament and the monarch. Delivering their lines to each other, rather than directed at the audience, gave a convincing rendition on what these meeting would have potentially looked like to an outsider.

As the all-powerful director of a modern-day rendition of Euripides’s Medea, the factors previously reviewed have influenced my decisions on the proposed theatrical performance. As in The Audience, the proscenium stage would also be utilized; however, for a different purpose. In this instance, the framing arch would serve to figuratively separate the audience from the action, and temporarily suspend their disbelief at the horror of infanticide. Furthermore, some seating in the depressed region would be removed for the chorus women to integrate themselves directly into the audience, as their role is to provide the objective view of the people.

Kay Theatre, University of Maryland

To perform in Medea, the actress cast to play the protagonist would be Rosamund Pike. Having already played the role of spiteful, manipulative wife after wrongdoings by her husband in Gone Girl, Pike would be well prepared to take on a similar character who the audience could empathize with, rather than resent, despite the horrific circumstances.

The performative direction given to the actors would be to deliver their lines directed specifically at one another, rather than break the fourth wall. Like in The Audience, this will be integral in suspending the disbelief of the audience. However, more importance will be placed on the manner that Medea recites her lines: it is vital for her agony from Jason’s mistreatment and her perplexity on the mechanism of revenge to be evident in her speech to gain the audience’s empathy.

In comparison to the setting of Buckingham Palace, the physical materials required to perform Medea, will be less elaborate. Whereas intricate means were needed to depict the Queen’s home, the proposed set design will only require a mobile set of stairs for the entrance of Creon, and a removable house-front for scenes that require separation between the inside and outside of a building. The lack of fanciful stage lighting and effects made The Audience more enjoyable because as a viewer, my attention was focused solely on the action taking place. Although a similar idea will be used for the interpretation of Medea, traditional Greek music will be employed for the entrance of Creon to pay homage to the Hellenic origin of the script.

Unlike the 65-year duration of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the narrative of Medea only occurs over a short time interval. Medea, dressed in white to convey her purity and righteousness, will not undergo any elaborate costume changes as there is no need to depict any change in chronology as there was in The Audience. However, she will have dark, intense make-up and flowing, burgundy hair to emphasize her foreign upbringing.

Helen McCrory as Medea. London’s National Theatre, 2014

The chronological arrangement of Morgan’s The Audience was difficult to follow and required numerous costume changes to keep up with the fluctuating eras. These directorial decisions by Potter in The Audience had a definite impact on my rendition of Medea. For simplicity, I plan to retain the traditional order of events, as written by Euripides. However, to modernize the conclusion of the play, the curtain will fall following Jason’s realization at the fate of his children, cutting out the Deus-ex-Machina exit of Medea.

Review of “Mother Courage and Her Children” and My Production of “Titus Andronicus”-Lauren Kubica Teply

Photo of me with actor Dan, who played Mother Courage’s eldest son “Eilif”

I recently had the privilege of attending director Adrian Young’s staging of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht. While watching the play, I focused on the various constructive elements that Young deemed appropriate for her play. Doing so provided me with an extensive amount of insight into what I will now employ for my upcoming performance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
What was really quite strikingly different about Young’s performance itself occurred after the intermission. Young moved the audience onto the floor of the stage house and scattered the actors throughout, causing it to transform into a highly interactive experience. Although a neat idea, and quite memorable at that, a few complications arose. One predominant dislike I found revolved around scene change since actors were forced to cease performing, round-up and herd the audience to the next appropriate seating location, and then resume. A plausible solution to that issue would be to stage the play on an arena stage, rather than the chosen thrust type stage. An arena stage allows the audience to feel less removed from the action, thereby creating the same effect as locating spectators directly in the stage house. Attending Mother Courage made me realize this, and I will therefore be manipulating an arena stage for my performance of Titus Andronicus. Additionally, I deem it extremely appropriate for alternating sides of the audience to feel blindsided occasionally from the arena layout, since Titus falls victim to schemes he can’t see. All factors considered, I have decided to stage my production in Regina Saskatchewan’s Globe Theatre and I am excited to announce my A-list cast: Liam Neeson as Titus Andronicus, Patrick Stewart as Marcus Andronicus, Susan Sarandon as Tamora, Joaquin Phoenix as Saturninus, Laurence Fishburne as Aaron, and Amanda Seyfried as Lavinia. Neeson (Titus) is renowned for his monotonous solemnity and therefore Titus’s scenes of rage, such as when he stabs his son Mutius, will be performed in a confident and rather icy manner. Fishburne (Aaron) has a strong intimidating presence on stage and I consequentially have decided that Tamora (Sarandon) will express feelings of inferiority towards him, thereby allowing his plans to be completed as seen in 2.3.
The costumes in Mother Courage were outstanding and exceeded my expectations. The realistic and ample military uniforms effectively fulfilled their intimidating task. Soldiers were scattered throughout the theatre during intermission, causing spectators to gain emotional insecurity and fear. Weapons were also present on the actors, and I have no doubt that a blank was shot roughly twice. At least I hope it was a blank…either way the effect was simply heart stopping, literally. As a war time play, the cast was predominantly male and the only touch of glamour was on Yvette who was a heavily made-up prostitute. I have decided my production will use costumes to the same extent as Young did in her production of Mother Courage. Lavinia will be clothed in an old torn gown that is more blood stained than its original colour of white. She will not change, as I believe she must remain alongside Titus in such a way to serve as an emblem of victimization. Titus will wear white underneath his Roman General attire, as he embodies honest virtue. Saturninus, along with Tamora and her two sons Demetrius and Chiron, will be clothed in black while Aaron will wear solely red garbs to emphasize his demonic role.
As for set design, quite a few elements were manipulated for Mother Courage. Her notorious wagon never left her side, tables and chairs were present on the stage with the actors in numerous scenes. A large hut was also in the rear of multiple scenes, most notably when it became the deathbed for fatally shot Kattrin. Portions of the audience seating sections were blocked off and decorated to mirror bomb shelters and military barricades. Doing so caused the audience to feel as though they were in the middle of the war scene. My production will not trespass audience seating whatsoever, as the arena stage I have chosen keeps the audience in close contact with the action at all times. Furthermore, unlike Brecht, Shakespeare incorporated enough stage direction and imagery into the script that stage designs are not a necessity and could unintentionally distract and block the audience. Stage props should serve only as a crutch, as stage effects are the most impactful way to heighten any emotions in a scene. Through the manipulation of coloured lighting, occurrences become significantly more evident and powerful. In Mother Courage, coloured lighting was solely applied for the use of song with a modern twist. The Lullaby was a glowing scene of blue light, as Mother Courage sang her shot daughter to sleep (death). The blue light provided a bone-chilling coldness that amplified the melancholy tone present in the song. Yvette’s song of Fraternization shone bright red which intensified the effects of passionate frustration. Although song and coloured lighting were applied simultaneously as one in Mother Courage, my production of Titus will subtract the musical element from the equation entirely and will solely manipulate lighting. As Titus becomes increasingly crazed and loses clarity throughout the performance, every setting will become consistently darkened and will be accompanied by various auras of coloured shades. This effect will cease once Titus is fatally wounded by Saturninus, as the stage will be momentarily consumed by complete darkness. In addition, once the rape of Lavinia has occurred, a strong red spotlight will accompany her to demonstrate the rage and strong feelings Titus has whenever he catches sight of her. Once Titus has killed her, the spotlight focused on Lavinia’s body transforms to white which emulates her restored honour and purity, along with a great release of Titus’ grief about her cause.
In conclusion, a significant issue that will be adjusted for my staging of Titus Andronicus will be Tamora’s pregnancy with Aaron’s child. Foreshadowing Tamora’s pregnancy will cause the sudden birth to become more realistic, far less surprising, and will also create a time frame for the audience.

Review of “Wait Until Dark” and direction of “Medea” – Josiah Sinanan


Set in 1940s New York, a world of con-men and mobsters and in many ways an uncertain and suspenseful time period, The Vertigo’s production of Wait Until Dark is an edge-of-your-seat performance. Many aspects of the play caught me off guard (in a good way), and the presentation was very realistic. Multiple components were put into the program to create this effect, and were intentionally and skillfully used to bring out the features of the plot in the best way possible. Watching Vertigo Calgary’s rendition of this mystery play, I gained valuable insight into modern drama, which influenced my own personal decisions in directing a version of Medea. The three specific components I will address in this performance which will influence my own artistic decisions are the set design, the lighting effects, and the usage of props.

Watching Wait Until Dark, I was initially skeptical of its execution, as the play was advertised as a suspenseful thriller. I was unsure how this genre would be presented in the context of a single set with a blind protagonist. The set itself was one static scene, and was designed to be the living room of a basement suite apartment. Including an entryway, a small living space, a kitchenette, and a faux hallway leading to other unseen rooms, the space was used very well to enhance the components of the plot itself, with each part of the set becoming familiar to the audience and used for a purpose. Since the main character is blind, she must feel her way upon each feature of the room, which adds a certain extra value to what would otherwise be normal features of a house. These tactile features of the home become important as the plot unfolds as the characters must make use of what is known – with or without the lights. This usage of the set certainly intrigued me, and I think it would be amazing to attempt a performance of Medea all in one space. Besides scenes such as the Queen’s murder, I think this is something that would be possible, given the dialogue-driven scenes and poignant action-oriented moments. In order to do this, everyone could come to Medea as the play unfolds, and the chorus could be consistently present. I think that by using the set in this way, Wait Until Dark allowed the viewer to become an empathetic part of the protagonist’s world, which I would personally love to include in Medea.

Another notable feature of Wait Until Dark was its usage of lighting. One of the main reasons that protagonist Susy Hendrix begins to suspect she is being taken advantage of is the fact that certain lights are left on or off – she consistently asks trusted companions (such as her upstairs nuisance child-neighbor Gloria) exactly how light or dark the room actually is. The lighting also lends to the play’s general mood from scene to scene, with those in low lighting evoking a sense of mystery, others in full lighting to highlight certain dialogue or the time of day. There are key scenes that additionally take place in complete darkness, during the moments of highest suspense. The audience is left in the dark themselves during these moments (both literally and figuratively), and perhaps the most suspenseful scene of the play is Susy’s cornering of her potential murderer. Happening completely in the dark, Susy’s plans are thwarted by the villain’s opening of the refrigerator – the one light source that Susy forgot to account for in her scheme. This moment is packed with sickly surprise, and the lighting completely gives itself to this scene’s sense of thrill. Matches are also used to illuminate a “chase-scene” within the house while the threat of murder is looming, and the inability to see clearly does create an uncomfortable and charged atmosphere. This would be an incredible component of a modern-day interpretation of Medea, specifically using low lighting or shadows in a dramatic sense during the suspenseful or more villainous scenes of Medea’s rage towards Jason. Just like in Wait Until Dark, full and comfortable lighting could be used to highlight dialogue – but lower lighting or alternate light sources (perhaps a torch or the like) could equally be used to illustrate the action-oriented scenes.

Lastly, a powerful element of Wait Until Dark was its usage of stage props. Like the set itself, props were used so effectively in this performance, notably with a blind protagonist. A significant prop was the telephone in the apartment. An old turn-dial phone, this prop was used symbolically as the only connection the apartment had to the outside world. Yet, it was also used as a code-sending mechanism by almost every character. Like the phone; the window over the sink, the refrigerator, and even the piping along the wall were used in a similar fashion. On one level, these props were used in their conventional manner, yet on another they were also used unconventionally – sending coded messages and creatively making use of their alternative functions (i.e. as a weapon, a light source, or a sound-maker). I believe this could also be used effectively in Medea as well, although perhaps more so with costumes and makeup, as there are not a large amount of props written into the script. Items such as the poisoned crown that Medea sends as a gift for the Queen could certainly be stylized to become more symbolic – but the usage of costumes to highlight character contrasts (i.e. that Medea is a foreigner in her land through distinct garb and makeup) could be another use of props that could truly outline and extenuate the features of the play, just as Wait Until Dark used its props to do.

Overall, I believe the strength of Wait Until Dark’s artistic direction draws from its intentional usage of the set, lighting, and props as components to bring out the best of the plot and this is an aspiration I would desire to utilize in my modern production of Medea.

Review Proposal Caitlin Farley

For my review I will be writing on the directing choices from Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play.” I am Stage Managing the show and will be working close with the director. I will be able to see the process that the show goes through. The show runs from March 10th – 18th. Here’s the link:

http://www.simplytheatre.ca/product-category/shows/its-only-a-play/

Cheers,

Caitlin Marie Farley

Review Proposal – Tekla McIlhargey

For my review assignment in English 353, I will be attending Antoni Cimolino’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at Eau Claire Market Cineplex Stage on Saturday March 18th, 2017.  You can find a link to the production here: http://www.cineplex.com/Showtimes/macbeth-stratford-festival-hd/calgary-ab?Date=3/18/201

Review Proposal- Megan Stephan

For my review I would like to write on the Shakespeare Company’s production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” as a part of the High Performance Rodeo. I already saw the show on January 27th. The link to the website is: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/current-season/alls-well-that-ends-well/. You can also look up more shows in the High Performance Rodeo through the One Yellow Rabbit website: https://www.hprodeo.ca/