MEDEIA BY DOOD PAARD
UCLA’s Macgowan Little Theatre
The experimental Dutch theatre collective Dood Paard is translated as “Dead Horse” and not to flog one, but they are asking for trouble with both their name and their highly minimalistic, undramatic interpretation of the classic Greek mythic text of Medea, here entitled medEia.
Oscar van Woensel, Manja Topper and Kuno Bakker created the text and perform this work, part of UCLA Live’s normally stellar International Theatre Festival. The three appear barefoot, standing in front of a series of murkey, unattractive, paper backdrops as they intone, as chorus and characters, in a glib, low-key manner, punctuated by a few shouts, this reinterpretation of Medea’s efforts to aid Jason find the Golden Fleece, their expulsion and Jason’s marriage in Corinth to the daughter of King Creaon, which prompts the infamous motherly murder of the titular character’s two sons as revenge.
Van Woensel, the in-house playwright for Dood Paard, has used what he dubs as “Euro-English,” an English as a second language. This decision, exacerbated by limited movement and music and little interaction between the players, makes this 75-minute work, despite its experimental approach, enervating and distancing. There is repetition of words, men insisting they are women, little poetic language and an almost lackadaisical style that is in direct contrast to the power of the story. Most puzzling of all, Dood Paard mentions the revenge killing of Medea as an afterthought in what seems more performance art than experimental theatre. There are references to Medea’s “dark powers.” We see none of it.
Breaking up the presentation is a series of slides from locations around the world, flashed blurrily on some of the hanging paper scrims, with little connection to the work and with virtually no time to ponder the images themselves. The stiff, hands-in-pockets approach to performance used here is reminiscent of young kids reciting a text in a school auditorium with little connection to the work. Significantly, the summary at the end of show from the three performers includes a final thought, in which one player informs us this is an interpretation of history and if we disagree with it in some way, “..well, fuck you.”
If Dood Paard had come up with a more inventive or emotionally charged concept, they undoubtedly would not have resorted to a hostile, self-congratulatory denunciation of the audience as the ultimate moment of their miscalculated production.