Different ways to deal with tragedy

Special to The Times

Euripides fans -- and we know you are legion -- rejoice. Two worthy productions of "Medea" are running within easy traveling distance of Los Angeles.

Directorially speaking, the interpretations are radically different, but both feature superlative casts, cogent translations and the kind of emotional truthfulness guaranteed to give a genuine cathartic charge.

David Bridel takes the more classical approach in his staging at Cal Rep. Working from Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael's richly contemporary adaptation, Bridel keeps his staging as stringent and evocative as a Universal horror film.

Fog fills the precincts of Danila Korogodsky's superb set (which, by the way, has a breathtaking surprise in store at play's end). George Cybulski's appropriately Stygian lighting design glares up through traps in the stage floor, underneath which hands are seen desperately scrabbling. Lauren Hea-Seung Kim's costumes look more like decaying cerements than clothing, while Mark Abel's clanging and dissonant sound design, along with Justus Matthews' original choral music, increases our dread. In Barbara Matthews' hair and makeup design, the Greeks have the matted hair and livid countenances of the dead.

Only the "foreigner," Medea (Marjo-Riikka Makela), appears rosy and hale -- a fitting separation emphasizing her outcast status. Although hampered by a sometimes incomprehensible accent, the youthful Makela centers her portrayal in raw anguish and loss, whereas the able Mark Piatelli plays Jason with just the right touch of cocky hubris.

Granted, Bridel sometimes overdoes the histrionics, especially in the case of over-the-top Kreon (Gary Grossman), but all in all, the acting is haunting and fine.

While Makela is girlishly spontaneous, Lisa Tharps, who plays Medea at the Boston Court, is measured, queenly and magnificently vindictive. Tharps' Medea may think twice before murdering her sons, but she doesn't think thrice. Her anguish, while real, is tamped down -- banked embers that will soon blaze into a firestorm.

Director Stefan Novinski has assembled a terrific cast that makes the most of Paul Roche's outstanding new translation. Designer Donna Marquet's weirdly revisionist set is, quite simply, one of the best in memory -- a functioning commercial kitchen, shining with stainless steel appurtenances. Here, Medea's women -- who sing their responses, gospel-style -- buzz around preparing food while catastrophe looms.

It's doubtful whether Novinski sufficiently links the setting with the text, but it's a daringly odd design choice as intriguing as it is perplexing. Drew Dalzell's sound design, with its undertone of Muzak, is further disorienting. Rand Ryan's lighting and Barbara Lempel's costumes are utilitarian and crisp.

Jason (Andrew Borba) is a preening, self-contained opportunist whose arrogance will soon give way to howling grief. Particularly excellent, the chorus executes Todd Schroeder's original music with brisk matter-of-factness. Bustling and worldly wise, these handmaidens may have no energy for theatrics, but their understated horror is evident, as is their wrenching empathy for Medea's plight.

*

'Medea'

Where: Cal Rep at the Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Also 2 p.m. Feb. 26 and 7 p.m. March 8

Ends: March 12

Price: $20

Contact: (562) 985-7000, www.calrep.org

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Also

Where: Boston Court, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: March 27

Price: $30

Contact: (626) 683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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