Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Incubator - Medea, part 2 - Homework

The blessing and curse of Greek mythology is that there’s always another layer.

It’s what piqued my interest in the Medea legend in the first place.

When I realized that Medea’s faithless husband Jason was the same Jason of Jason and the Argonauts fame, and the quest for the Golden Fleece, I was hooked.

But then you start pulling the whole thing apart and realize that there aren’t even six degrees of separation between any of these legends. There’s just one or two, tops.

So Medea and Jason touch on everything from Oedipus to Orpheus to Hercules to Phaedra to the Minotaur to Prometheus to the Amazons to Helen of Troy to the homicidal house of Atreus, and so on and so on and so on, spiraling out to infinity. And that’s just the humans and demigods. Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Cupid and Company up on Mount Olympus are in there mixing it up as well.

In the original stab I took at this whole thing some twenty years ago now, I laid it all out. The thing was so top-heavy with backstory and tangents that it’s a wonder the plot moved at all. In order to make the story just as captivating for an audience as it is to the writer, ya gotta start streamlining the thing so the main storyline pops out a bit more.

What to leave out, what to keep in?

The last time I took a stab at this, over twelve years ago, I took a great deal of the details for granted and just drew the adventure in really broad strokes. There were hints at the untold stories behind it all, but I essentially left all that for the actors and director and dramaturg to hash out for themselves when they started doing their own prep work.

Both of these versions were so old I had to dig out a hard copy and retype them, or at least, for now, all the pages having to do with Jason and Medea’s story. I’d set the idea aside so long ago (several computers back in the mists of time) that there weren’t up to date translatable electronic copies to be had.

Entering the words onto the screen again made it clear that the balance lay somewhere in between the two versions. Part of the fun is the weird interconnectedness of it all. But I just need to resist getting carried away. Or being too withholding of information.

The other thing it made clear is that I needed to tell this story, and only this story. All the times before, I’d tried to string a modern day plotline and characters through the thing, and it never worked. For one, Jason and Medea is one of the most heterosexual storylines you’re gonna find out there. And my young writer’s obsessions kept trying to find some homosexual angle to it all. Sure there were characters on the periphery, there always are. But trying to allow the gay sensibility of the modern day story to bleed into the mythological tale just never worked. Worse, I started doing ridiculous cross-gender stuff with no real rhyme or reason to it. Nothing dies harder than a bad idea. But I think scanning the old material from the modern day stories drove a stake through the heart of it all, finally.

Also, all that male-female switcheroo stuff, as effective and useful as it might be elsewhere, just muddies the waters here. Medea did what she did because she was backed into a corner. She had no options. Jason, and the other male figures in the story, held all the cards. This is a story about a culture where women and foreigners and people who are different (in this case, with magical powers and supernatural relatives), are treated as second-class citizens. They are praised when they are useful to the needs of the established order, but barely tolerated otherwise. Medea gave up her power and standing in her home country to aid Jason in his quest and follow him to a new land. He repaid her by betraying her on a number of levels. From a certain angle, the guy had it coming. I didn’t want to accidentally set up a situation where a director might think, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s have Medea played by a guy!”


It is, on one level, about the victimization of women by men. Turning it around and making the man the victim and the woman the oppressor won’t fly. Plus, Medea is one of the few meaty, strong roles for women in the classical canon. I would rightly be strung up by my thumbs by any number of actresses I know if I took yet another role away from them and handed it off to a guy. Men have plenty to choose from - from Oedipus to Hamlet and beyond. Leave Medea alone.

Me, I keep trying to leave Medea alone. But she keeps coming back.

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