Perhaps the most important part of growth is moving on; leaving behind what is held dear and becoming something new. Most face this challenge with wariness, and some, even fear. There are also those who view such an undertaking as a great opportunity. They face the new with barely a pause, shedding the past like dead skin. Finally, there are those who can think of this new way only with greed and lust; cutting out their past savagely and clawing forward to this new way with no remorse for what they have lost. This is shown with great intensity in Black Medea, with the character of Medea betraying her homeland for a man who she thought would bring her riches and recognition. In the end, it only destroyed her family. Wesley Enoch’s Black Medea uses the modern cultural issue of the exploitation of Aboriginal Australian faith to retell the Greek tragedy of Euripides’ Medea with imagination and incredible symbolic insight.
Wesley Enoch’s Black Medea, although very different in terms of culture and time period, uses the same conventions of Euripides’ Medea. Euripides’ Medea is set in Ancient Greece with Greek characters and culture. Black Medea is set in roughly the mid to late 20th century, and focuses heavily on Aboriginal Australian culture and beliefs. In the Greek tragedy, Medea sacrifices her family in order to be with Jason by murdering those of her clan that stood in her way of marrying him. In Black Medea, Medea sacrifices her family in a different way; although she does not murder the family she had in her homeland, she betrayed them by taking advantage of the land that her people believed sacred. She lets go of everything she holds dear in order to gain material wealth through Jason, who promises her riches and success. She allows her home to be dug up for mining, and essentially “rapes her mother” (as described within Enoch’s adaptation of Euripdes’ Medea), because the land has nurtured her and provided for her, as a mother would. Despite the different cultural aspects and the way in which the character of Medea destroys her ties to her family, both women in both versions of Medea come to the same demise; in the end, Medea murders her own son and is cast out of both the home she left and the home she made with Jason; an outsider with no purpose. By using a different mean to achieve the same end, Wesley Enoch successfully connects Black Medea with Euripdes’ Medea, while allowing the viewers to see the story through the eyes of an Aboriginal Australian.
Enoch’s Black Medea uses technical devices to strengthen the symbolic aspects of the production. One effective device that was used was tableaus. These still moments were used to tell larger stories in a short period of time. Each time the lights went out and came back on, the actors were in a different position. These frozen images told the story of how Medea betrayed her home and her family to gain material wealth. Two other very simplistic, yet extremely revealing stage choices Enoch made to further explain the culture and background of the production were the costumes and the props. In the production, Medea wears a colourfully-patterned head wrap and a simple, worn-out dress. This showed the viewers that she was of Aboriginal Australian ancestry and that she was not particularly wealthy or of high status, which is important to remember, because her character is motivated by the possibility of gaining status and wealth through her marriage to Jason. Jason is always seen in the production wearing a ratty and faded suit, which is symbolic of his desire to be a successful business man, and his failure to fully achieve that. Their son wears a private school uniform which shows that his parents are struggling to pay for his education, since their own clothes are so damaged and aged. The set did not have a lot of props, yet the ones that were present were crucial to explaining the time period, the family’s financial situation, and the beliefs of the culture. The refrigerator revealed the time period of the play. Refrigerators in the style that was shown in the production became popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, which leads one to conclude that the play is set during roughly this twenty year time period. The table that was placed at centre stage was rough wood and did not look as though it had any monetary value. This, along with the costumes and the conversations of the characters in the production, helped to show the viewers that Medea and her family were not well-off, though they thirsted for wealth. There were various objects placed in a circle around the stage, which Medea and her family stayed inside for the majority of the production. These objects acted as a barrier between them and the demons of greed and violence that they were fighting against. The play opens with Medea setting this barrier with her son, and it shows her culture’s customs and superstitions, which later are shown to be crucial to the rest of the production. Through these subtle technical devices, Enoch successfully conveys the time period of the production, the situation of the characters, and the beliefs of the surrounding culture.
Symbolism plays a very large role in Enoch’s Black Medea. This symbolism not only serves to further explain the culture and background of his specific production, but also conveys subtle ties to Euripides’ Medea. In Black Medea, there is an image of a boat hanging in the background which is a constant presence, but never directly addressed. At first glance, one may even assume that this boat is merely a coincidental decoration, but those who are familiar with Greek mythology and Euripides’ Medea would be more attuned to notice this seemingly random object, and take it for its true meaning. The boat, in fact, has significance; in Greek mythology, Medea escapes from her homeland with Jason on a boat. When the authorities chase her, she takes her brother and chops him into pieces, throwing him into the ocean so that her assailants will be forced to stop and gather the pieces of her brother, allowing her to get away. By having the image of the boat in the background of Black Medea, it is an ever-present reminder of the evil she committed for Jason and his success that never came. The characters often make references to “scattered bones”. These references not only pertain to the digging up of Medea’s ancestors in her homeland, but also refers to the scattered bones of Medea’s brother in Greek mythology. When Medea reaches her breaking point in Enoch’s production, she smears paint over herself and lets her hair loose, which is symbolic of both the evil she had been trying to suppress being released, and also regaining that spiritual connection to her roots. Enoch used two women as the chorus, who acted as the voices in Jason’s and Medea’s heads. The barrier Medea cast kept them at bay in the beginning, but by the end, they had penetrated the barrier and Medea and Jason both succumbed to their greed. Through powerful symbolism, Enoch beautifully illustrates the connections between his production and Euripides’ Medea.
By examining Enoch’s Black Medea and Euripides’ Medea, it becomes clear that Enoch successfully retold the Greek tragedy through the spirituality of Aboriginal Australians. This is done through both the parallels and differences between the two plays, the technical devices Enoch chose to use in his production to explain the culture, time period and situation of the characters, and also through the symbolic significance of the boat, the circle of objects and the voices manifested in human form. This production beautifully put together culture and Greek mythology to show the weakness of the human mind and one’s natural tendency towards selfishness and greed.
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Black Medea. Dir. Wesley Enoch. Perf. Audrey Dwyer, Lindsay Owen, Tiffany Martin, Mariah Inger, Meleke Bell and Isaiah Bell. Obsidian Theatre, Toronto. 2008.
McDonald, Marianne, et al. “Medea”. Greek Tragedy. London: Nick Hern Books, 2005. 41-80.
“Refrigerator”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed October 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator>
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