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‘Pure Medea’ at Automatic Arts: Confusion without grandeur or dignity

We watch an apparently amateur theater group rehearsing a production of Euripides' "Medea," but none of them seem to have any relationships, and no overall sense emerges from the proceedings. And a slangy translation further deflates the enterprise.

Sophia Barrett and Josh McLucas in "Pure Medea," through May 19 at Automatic Arts.
Sophia Barrett and Josh McLucas in "Pure Medea," through May 19 at Automatic Arts.Read moreCeilidh Madigan

Euripides’ monumental tragedy Medea is a major undertaking. So why would a group of amateur actors — trained amateurs, granted — invite an audience to come and see them rehearse the play? Well, not really a rehearsal, but a faux rehearsal, a rehearsed rehearsal, where ad-libs have been scripted and there are trust exercises and it’s all very MFA.

I was alarmed to start with: Of the 18 people in the audience, four were children. If ever there was a play not suitable for a family outing, Medea is close to the top of the list, since the main character murders her two little sons because her husband left her for another woman.

On a bare floor of the Christ Church Neighborhood House, cast members, in what seems to be their street clothes, are running lines. Medea’s husband, Jason (Josh McLucas), tries out different ways of delivering his line “I forgive the past.” The Tutor (Homer Robinson) responds with “Hey, hey, wuzzup?” Later he will contribute the immortal line “Jeez, Louise.” There is some pointless snarky exchange about living in a shoe factory, and Jason does stretching exercises while working on his line “You are an abomination.” Then everybody waits while one of the actors goes to the bathroom. Later we’ll hear a discussion of the soap opera Days of Our Lives.

There is no Kiss Me, Kate effect here: These actors seem to have no relationships with one another, and there is no frame play.

Eventually, they get down to business and actually speak, if not perform, the play. Sophia Barrett is a rather sweet-looking and soft-spoken Medea, conveying none of the sly ambiguity built into the role — Medea is, after all, the smartest and most dangerous person in the room and will be the last one standing. Later, she will announce tearfully that she is pregnant. Hallie Martenson plays the Director in a self-aggrandizing and bossy way, interested in “brands of male power.” Lauren Suchenski plays the Nurse, although there is a nasty concluding moment where she begins to speak Medea’s lines and we see where that might be headed. McLucas does finally crank up his Jason, although we have to wait nearly two hours to see some actual acting.

Sheila Murnaghan’s translation features lots of colloquial language (“All this I did for you, you lowlife”), and altogether there is a lack of dignity and grandeur in these proceedings. And whatever does the show’s title, Pure Medea, mean?


Pure Medea

Through May 19 at Automatic Arts, Christ Church Neighborhood House, Second and Market Sts. Tickets: $12-15. Information: or