Medea in the Mirror: A Revolutionary Medea

Medea in the Mirror
by Jose Triana
translated by Gwynne Edwards
directed by Yvonne Brewster

From 1 July 1996
Brixton Shaw Theatre
The Brix
St. Matthews
Brixton Hill

Reviewed by Marianne McDonald
University of California, San Diego

Jose Triana wrote Medea in the Mirror in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution. It was immediately banned in Cuba after its first performance. It is now being performed in London by the Talawa Theatre Company. The characters are played by blacks except for Jason and Creon who are played by whites. The theme is oppression, and the vengeance that follows oppression. Once again Euripides' Medea, like Sophocles' Antigone, is used as a symbol for freedom fighters.

This version features Cuban music, predominantly drums and flute, composed by Keith Waite. The director is Yvonne Brewster, who was educated in Jamaica, and her able hand is recognizable throughout.

Medea in the Mirror has a lot of voodoo magic in it; Euripides' text has been greatly altered but the essence remains. The emphasis on magic makes it sometimes resemble Seneca's Medea more than that of Euripides. In this version Medea/Maria, is in love with Jason/Julio, a charming seductive Cuban. Julio abandons his black wife with her two children to marry the daughter of a white man (Creon) who has 'made it big.' Maria's nurse, who raised her after her mother's death, tries to get her to face the truth, but it takes voodoo spells, and the appearance of her deceased mother to get Maria to see the truth that Julio has abandoned her.

At first Maria simply takes vengeance on the wealthy landowner and his daughter by sending them poisoned wine, but she still loves Jason and somehow believes she will win him back. Maria confronts herself and sees Medea in the mirror. Maria is literally surrounded by mirrors that she finds buried in the sand which is strewn about the stage. The violent vengeful Medea confronts the loving Medea, and wins, illustrating the claim Euripides puts in her mouth, 'My passion is stronger than my rational decisions, the greatest source of evil for mankind.' In this performance we see a truly passionate Medea (not the sophisticated Diana Rigg who misses the point). This Maria is transformed by dances and spells, possessed before our eyes: she assumes the courage needed to fight back.

Her mother's ghost hands Maria a doll, and a witch doctor gives her a long dagger. She slays both Jason and her children in effigy, and the power of voodoo is such that this act is more than symbolic. People who are cursed this way die. The chorus start to chant songs that intone the word 'blood'. Jason comes on stage and rages against Medea at the loss of his bride and her father, but Medea sticks her hands in some mud on the stage and wipes it on Jason's white shirt. We seem to see blood.

The final scene shows us Jason rushing to kill Medea, but she is hoisted high by the chorus and says, 'I am God.' She has become the Goddess in the dragon-drawn chariot, but now her power comes from the people. The people band together to protect their leader, and this vengeance indicates a shift in power, as it always does when the oppressed fight back successfully. Like Euripides this is powerful drama, as vital and as dangerous as the human spirit.

Marianne McDonald
University of California, San Diego

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