Medea Boldly Reimagined by Chromatic Theatre

Chromatic Theatre presents Euripides' Medea, its sophomore production. Pictured, left to right: Justin Michael Carriere, Carly McKee, Artistic Director Jenna Rodgers, Chantelle Han, Makambe K. Simamba, Ali DeRegt, in rehearsal. Photo Credit: Mike Tan.

Chromatic Theatre presents Euripides’ Medea, its sophomore production. Pictured, left to right: Justin Michael Carriere, Carly McKee, Artistic Director Jenna Rodgers, Chantelle Han, Makambe K. Simamba, Ali DeRegt, in rehearsal. Photo Credit: Mike Tan.

None can deny that the past few years have seen an increase in racial(ized) tension, particularly in the United States. The nation’s attention has been captured by recorded incidents of police brutality against African Americans, and the failure of the courts to serve justice. And so, none can be surprised that the marginalized have taken to demonstrations in order to spread the dehumanizing reality people of color face daily.

And one such demonstration is Chromatic Theatre’s bold production of Euripides’ Medea.

Directed by Alyssa Bradac, this ancient Greek tragedy tells the story of Medea (Chantelle Han), wife of Jason (Justin Michael Carriere), whose husband abandons her and their two sons for the daughter of King Creon (Carly McKee). The political marriage drives Medea to seek violent revenge against Jason, his bride-to-be, and her father.

Those familiar with the mythology surrounding Medea will know that she is a barbarian, a term used to identify non-Greeks. Medea’s foreignness puts her at a social disadvantage among the Greeks, a major reason why Jason wants to marry into Greek royalty as it would benefit him socially. And this marginalization is made worse by Medea being a woman.

In Greek society, Medea tells us, the husband rules his wife. Women are expected to stay home with the children, live private lives while their husbands engage with the public sphere. And worse still, Medea says, is that a woman cannot divorce without attracting disgrace. For Medea, it is an injustice that women lose independence, the capacity to act freely, upon marriage.

Given this understanding of the character, the audience struggles to reconcile both their sympathy and disgust for Medea when she murders her own children as part of her vengeance against Jason. And this reconciliation is made more difficult by Chromatic Theatre’s artistic choice to cast Medea as a person of color and Jason as a white man. For the colour conscious casting introduces new politics onstage, politics that its modern audience have seen unfold across the media in recent years.

From the beginning, we see develop the sort of oppressive conditions that encourage marginalized groups to gather and protest in order to make their issues known. At the same time, the audience sees how easy unrest can turn violent, as it did in Ferguson or during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and that when it does there are no winners. Everyone loses, but none lose more than our children, the next generation who now inherit a prolonged history of hate and violence. The immediate sadness that washes over Han in the play’s final moments is not just for the loss of her two sons, but the possibility for peace which she has threatened with her actions.

Certainly, prejudice pushes Medea towards the edge, but what truly hurts her is the failure to properly dialogue with Jason who fails to grasp her perspective. Here, we are asked to question how often the public tries contextualizing the frustrations and anger of protesters? How often news media goes beyond simplified terms like ethnic violence or racial conflict and employs an intersectional approach to social issues? As we see, it is never just one thing, but multiple, interdependent factors e.g. race, class, gender. This particular staging of the play serves as both a call for understanding and a warning of the path we continue to travel down.

Bradac’s direction is strong, displays the sort of energy such a production requires. The Chorus (McKee, Jenna Rodgers, Ali DeRegt, and Makambe K. Simamba) is kept in fluid motion, involved in the horror of Medea’s revenge plan. Although, the use of pocket flashlights by the Chorus is awkward. The Chorus members shine light on whomever is making a character change, like McKee into King Creon or DeRegt into Aegeus. Besides the brief pause created by taking time to shine (a flimsy) light on someone, the flashlights feel unnecessary considering the effective change in tone and gesture the actors employ.

Han commands the stage as Medea, playing the character with great urgency. Truly, the actress gives a captivating performance as she makes immediate Medea’s desire for revenge, at the same revealing the hurt that motivates her vengeance. Carriere’s Jason is played with the most infuriating arrogance, well deserved for such a despicable, narrow minded character. What a treat it is for the audience when Han, an unstoppable force, meets Carriere, an immovable object, onstage. Simamba establishes a determined presence as Nurse. DeRegt has the misfortune of playing a character who appears for the sake of plot convenience. To her credit, the actress does what she can with what is given to her, unfortunately there is simply not much here. Though brief, McKee does well as Creon.

While yes, the production is a contemporary staging, it remains difficult to identify a clear aesthetic choice in Benjamin Toner’s costume design. The costumes are unclear in terms of what sort of setting or period they are supposed to reflect. In contrast, Kathryn Smith’s set evokes an earthy, at odds with both the natural and supernatural world feel, which is strongly emphasised by Miquelon Rodriguez’s ethereal sound design.

Ultimately, the experience of marginalized peoples comes alive in Chromatic Theatre’s thought provoking, socially relevant production of Medea. The company reimagines the politics of its tragic heroine for an age disturbed by profound, complex levels of dehumanization. A must see.


Chromatic Theatre’s Medea ran September 24 – October 3rd, 2015 at the Motel Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, visit: chromatictheatre.ca

Chromatic Theatre’s Debut Production Shows Promise, but Just Misses The Mark

Presented at Motel inside the EPCOR Centre and directed by Jenna Rodgers, Chromatic Theatre – Calgary’s newest theatre company – makes its debut with Michael Golamco’s Cowboy Versus Samurai.

A modern re-telling of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Cowboy Versus Samurai tells the story of Korean-American Travis Park (Mike Tan), a high school English teacher who lives in the fictional town of Breakneck, Wyoming. Besides Travis, there is only one other Asian in this predominantly white rural town: Chester (Richard Lee Hsi) – his friend and brother in Asian solidarity. When Asian-American Veronica Lee (Carmela Sison) moves into town, Travis immediately falls for the school’s new Biology teacher. There is, however, just one problem: Veronica only dates white men. Soon, Travis finds himself ghostwriting love letters to Veronica on behalf of his friend Del (Mat Glessing), a Caucasian P.E teacher, while struggling to reconcile his inner “Cowboy” and “Samurai.”

Golamco sets out to dismantle racialized stereotypes, and he does so very explicitly with Chester – an amalgamation of pop culture Asian stereotypes. Chester’s extreme, over-the-top expression of “Asianness” is a confrontation of how our culture operates with regards to race. Just as Chester embodies sweeping generalizations about Asians, so too does he paint his own broad strokes about white people. These assumptions effectively erase the individual out of the picture.

Chester breaks down in front of Travis. Front to Back: Richard Hsi, Mike Tan. (Photo Credit: Miquelon Rodriguez)

Chester (Richard Lee Hsi) breaks down in front of Travis (Mike Tan). Photo Credit: Miquelon Rodriguez

Chester eventually comes to realize that his preoccupation with being Asian has obscured his own individual identity.

What is interesting, though, is that Breakneck, Wyoming remains a homogeneous, bigoted “sea of white” throughout. It is, of course, the small rural town and its small-minded residents that are Golamco’s obvious culprits for prejudice. And Del – the play’s spokesperson for white people – is part of the problem. Yes, by the end of the play, Del makes significant progress in terms of how he thinks and talks about race, but the fact remains that Golamco’s attempt to subvert stereotypes falls short of rising above the very thing he sets out to criticize.

Despite this, Golamco’s does manage to bring forward some insightful observations surrounding identity and inter-racial dating – the latter being a topic rarely discussed as earnestly and with such vigor as it is here.

But the script lacks character depth. Awkward dialogue does nothing to help characters who struggle to say anything interesting when race is not involved. And it does little to help us truly care about Travis and Veronica’s relationship. There are some sharply written moments to be found, but character development, for the most part, takes a backseat to the play’s major ideas.

Hsi fully commits to the ridiculous nature of his character during both scenes and scene transitions. Tan is a great straight man to Hsi’s antics, while also being entertaining in his own right. The duo are a good pair.

Jennifer Lee Arsenault’s set design is aesthetically pleasing with its waterbrush look. The use of spinning cardboard boxes, hung on tubes in rows of three, is an ingenious way of changing scenery. (Though they are prone to getting stuck in mid-spin).

A questionable production choice is the company’s use of a live cap gun. The gun’s loud bang is deafening inside the small studio space – which only seats 50. A sound cue would suffice.

While the company could have chosen a tighter script, Chromatic Theatre’s production of Golamco’s Cowboy Versus Samurai fares well enough as a first impression. It will be interesting to see how the company develops from this point on.


Chromatic Theatre’s production of Michael Golamco’s Cowboy Versus Samurai runs at Motel (EPCOR Centre) from Nov 13 – 22, 2014.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://chromatictheatre.ca/cowboy-versus-samurai/