Tonight I was treated to a long-overdue fix of classical stage by the theatre department at the University of British Columbia. They are ambitiously tackling the Greek tragedy Medea, and as much as I talk about the importance of staging contemporary theatre in Vancouver as a necessity towards growing a new, as yet uninitiated audience, I do love me some heady stage and have had a long standing, nerdy affinity for the olde, wordy roots of our craft. And before tonight I hadn’t seen any in a very long time.
The play is being staged in the absolutely wonderful Telus Studio Theatre out on the UBC campus. It’s a dream room; cylindrical with exquisite acoustics and vertical tiered seating. I sat watching the actors work in that space with a great deal of jealousy. Actually, never having gone to theatre school myself, the whole affair made me jealous and kind of regretful that I never went that route. These young actors have a full production staff behind them and they’re up there earnestly ACT-ting their hearts out in what is considered one of the pivotal plays in the history of the craft…you could see the passion and love of craft that was driving them from start to finish. I truly hope I was watching at least some of the future of theatre in Vancouver work it out tonight.
The story of Medea is legend, the titular character is the wife of Jason (he of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece fame) who murders her two sons and the new object of her husband’s affections in cold blood. She’s kind of the patron saint of crazy spurned lovers. The play is a pivotal work in theatre’s timeline because it’s generally considered to be the first play that removed the Gods from the machine and dealt with the straight-up messy human condition. In contrast, UBC alumnist and Vancouver theatre vet Lois Anderson has chosen not to direct the piece in a straight-up literal manner, she has instead composed a version of the play that uses a myriad of interesting choices and devices that makes maximum use of all members of the cast; who rotate roles, provide the choral soundtrack and add percussive emphasis to the dialogue and action. She even manages to work in a rather funky contemporary dance number. It’s altogether an impressive display of what seems to be every facet of the UBC Theatre program’s training regimen.
Hopefully, digging into this kind of work will continue to produce workhorses of our stage industry here in Vancouver. Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze was in the audience at the show tonight as well, perhaps he was scouting for some fresh talent. You just never know.