At Aichi Arts Center Mini Theatre
By Sarah Mulvey
Medea. You may have read it in high school (or was that the Cliff’s notes?) What do you remember? Well, it’s a tragedy, right? Written by a Greek dude. Yup, good, that would be Euripides. But really, what is a tragedy? (And no, it’s not when Lawson runs out of your preferred stout.)
A proper tragedy incorporates five key elements:
The tragic hero or heroine
The tragic hero is a person of high rank who accepts his or her downfall, understanding that it had to happen this way because of fate.
The Ancient Greeks believed in the idea of fate, a destiny decided by the gods and goddesses. No matter what action a person takes in the present, fate would decide the length of a person’s life and how much suffering a person would have to endure.
The tragic flaw
The tragic flaw is a weakness in character such as pride or arrogance. It is this flaw that will cause the hero or heroine’s downfall.
A tragedy ends with a catastrophe, a disastrous conclusion that usually involves death.
Throughout a tragedy there is a chorus. They are there to observe and comment on the action through dialogue or song. While they appear as “real” on stage, they can be described more as “spirits” who offer their unique voice to the action.
With all this juicy stuff, how did so many well-meaning lit teachers not get their students more engaged and interested in Medea, a truly epic story of love, power and retribution? I now know the answer. They didn’t have Aya Kawakami to consult with. Ms. Kawakami, founder of theatre company Theatre Iridescence (TI), has envisioned a unique and powerful version of Medea that has never been done before. With this vision clear in her mind, she set out to find the perfect cast to carry out the stage version of this tragic tale. With her director’s hat firmly in place, Aya set up auditions in December, and was overwhelmed by the sheer number of talented actors and actresses who auditioned. The end result is an abundance of talent, both professional and amateur, who have come together to bring this singular version of Medea alive.
In the title role is Jessica A. Robison. Jessica has been a vital part of Nagoya’s theatre scene for a decade. She consistently shines with her talent on and off the stage and as an integral part of TI. With her years of theatre experience that began long before moving to Japan, Jessica is able to deftly portray the complex nature of Medea’s character from the subtlest of eye movements to the grandest gesture of all, one that ultimately makes her a force to be reckoned with (and never to be forgotten.)
Alongside Ms. Robison is Tomonori Niwa, a professional kabuki-style actor with Nagoya-za. Mr. Niwa is well-known and loved on the stage, particularly at Nagoya-za, for his charismatic stage presence, something that will translate well in this production. In the role of Inosuke (Jason), Tomonori brings with him strength, confidence and a certain dash of arrogance that are a must to skillfully portray this character.
Nagoya theatre veterans, Lem Mauricio and Denise Hewitt, along with many familiar faces from the local music and dance community, will bring a depth and thoughtfulness to this production that can only be expected from performers of this high caliber.
I had a chance to ask director Kawakami a couple of questions about this production. Here are her thoughts:
SM: How is Medea relevant to us here and now in modern Japan?
AK: There are themes in this ancient story that are understood universally, that transcend time and culture. Love, betrayal, discrimination, revenge. Medea is a foreign woman in a foreign land, and, as such, is expected to accept the roles that are placed upon her because of her diminished role in society. This story forces us to question issues of gender, race, discrimination, and our roles as citizens of the country we live in – Japan. I purposely set this version of Medea in Japan to bring home these themes to our audience.
SM: Nagoya already has its share of English-language theatre companies. What compelled you to create another – ie; Theatre Iridescence?
AK: Diversity. Plain and simple, that’s what I felt was often lacking previously in the theatre scene. I recognized a lack of strong, non-conformist leading, stand-out roles for women and real people of diverse backgrounds. TI’s motto is “shining a light on untold stories.” By stepping beyond stereotypical roles created for women and men, Theatre Iridescence allows Nagoya audiences a different perspective on peoples’ life stories, digging deep to find nuanced layers that are often ignored, never told. Our focus is also on consistently providing a rich and varied cast of actors and storytellers to convey those stories with eloquence and with passion. We are proud that Medea fits this vision completely!
Thank you, Aya. With this vision driving you and Theatre Iridescence, this production of Medea will be sure to leave a lasting impression.
Mark your calendars, folks.