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This Noh-based production of Medea, choreographed and directed by Kenji Kawarasaki, drew high praise at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001. This revised version is seen here for the first time, at the East Village experimental theatre founded 45 years ago by Ellen Stewart. Company director Hiroshi Jin plays Medea, backed by Sho Tohno as Jason, Yoko Tomabechi as Glauce, Creon’s daughter beloved by Jason. Yuji Koide and Chinatsu Shimoyama double in other roles.
Somewhat confusingly, the words that accompany the play’s most visually dramatic scenes are delivered in a mixture of Japanese and English, neither of which is particularly intelligible. What matters more is the dramatic atmosphere of evil created by a crashing and screeching sound score and the skillful play of light on gleaming and diaphanous fabrics for the costumes and scenery.
As Medea, Jin is convincingly female enrobed in cloaks, each more sumptuous than the last. Glimpsed first in a sequined golden robe, he suggests Carabosse, the wicked fairy of Sleeping Beauty. But soon he is deep in the savagery of the classic Euripides tragedy, told in seven episodes with mounting horror to the shouts, screams and garroted gurgles of its Grand Guignol score. Black-clad figures leap and writhe, struggling to cast off their garments to dance. Jason takes the stage, back to the audience, and disrobes to nakedness for a slow solo. Medea’s murder of her two children, far from ritualistic, is performed in a sequence where a dagger is wielded before she chokes them in her cloak.
It’s not a straightforward telling of the drama, nor is it a purely Noh interpretation. This Medea is a mixture of east and west, myth and mayhem, in a way like Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart. The difference to this eye though is that Graham superbly pulled off in sheerly kinetic terms what Kawarasaki hasn’t quite achieved with so much sound and fury.