Medea in Kolchis

April 27, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

Last Thursday I saw a production of Robert Duncan’s Medea in Kolchis as part of the Poetry Project’s Robert Duncan Symposium. I loved it. We had to RSVP to get the address–an empty where house space across the street from The Hideout. The room was empty, about 20 people came. Being a spring evening it was quite cold. We sat in an assortment of folding chairs in the center of the otherwise plain space. And then, the players came out–I made some video clips of the evening and you might get a sense for things.

You might ask what the play is about. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know that I was supposed to understand that, even. I think instead I was there to absorb an impression, to take on the intuitions of performance and language. I know it is about a king (Arthur, played by Sandra Lim) who is interested in fiction. He names his daughter (who I think is played by 2 women–Monica Fambrough & Sara Gothard, though only ever referred to as 1) Medea and is always waiting for a “Jason” to come and take her hand. Arthur has fabricated an object he calls the golden fleece. He is a poet at the end of his life. Central to the play is the wonderfully lascivious nursemaid, Garrow, (played by John Beer, who also directed the piece), she goes between all of the characters serving them in their needs as much as she functions as the meta-glue between the play’s movements; a regular discussion of her age and the romantic exploits of her youth make into a kind of time signature for the whole piece. Jason (played by Patrick Culliton) arrives with whom I think is his tutor, The Doctor (Travis Nichols) who seems to represent a hard-fast reason, arguing against the self-indulgent Arthur. Doctor point’s to the way in which Arthur manipulates the people around him in order to make poems out of them. Jason as though to comiserate says, (what made me laugh out loud) “I don’t think [Arthur] likes my poetry.” Meantime the doctor continues to woo (and fail) and old flame, Edna (Nicole Wilson) who has terrific intuitions and believes in mystical things–I felt like her character probably listened to some combination of Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective–wanted Romance, not love (an interesting and curious distinction). The performers read from their scripts and sometimes read from cards, reflecting Duncan’s discussion of self-awareness (i.e. the emperor as one who makes fiction into real life in order to mythologize his experience). As you’ll see from the following clip, Arthur does a good job of his stretching exercises, what all emperors should do when imparting truth onto youths.

One of my favorite moments was when all the performers read their different lines out loud, at once, different characters overlapping cacuaphony and intermittent silence. At any rate, Medea (only ever dressed in white night dresses–one of them victorian, the other a kind of sweatshirt/cotton–the ruffles on the victorian one created a kind of focal point for me, which I found interesting to think about, i.e. what does it mean if a woman’s nightdress is a focal point in a play, especially if the surrounding action is so much larger and maybe that’s what those victorian ruffles were always supposed to do), falls for Jason and wants to seduce/marry him, Garrow tells them that in order to do so Jason must kill the serpant, Jason wants the golden fleece and in order to get the golden fleece must kill the emperor (Arthur), except he can’t at the last minute and so Medea kills him (Arthur/her father) instead. In the end, the Doctor tries to get back with Edna who refuses because he does not believe and cannot relate to her terrific imagination.  It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Victorian nightdress was the only focal point. Garrow was another, perhaps more obvious, counterpoint–and perfectly suited, I think, as the cross-dressing old wo/man, kind of like a sexy Tieresias, who’s experience and exploits and dark dress contrast with Medea’s own Virgin Suicide innocence.

Can you believe that this all happened in a tiny, unknown, cold little room in the city? It’s amazing! I love these sorts of situations because they seem to bring work I would not otherwise see to life–this kind of project seems very like the apartment gallery project, where much work goes into it, and the payoff comes in the sense of community and creative expression that results in an instant, i.e. the instant that the public sees the performance, (or art). There is no measurable affect that endures beyond that moment…it’s brilliant, I think. And always makes me very happy.

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posted by caroline picard

On Saturday, May 1st 2010 The Green Lantern will host a book release, celebrating three new titles from The Green Lantern Press: Devin Kings long poem CLOPS, a new translation of Rimbaud’s A Season In Hell* by Nick Sarno and The Concrete of Tight Places, an unusual guidebook by Justin Andrews that provides a“halucinatory tour of the world.” To commemorate this release, you are cordially invited to readings by Devin King and John Beer (Canarium Books, The Wasteland and Other Poems) at 7pm at the former Green Lantern Gallery space, 1511 N Milwaukee Ave., second floor, Chicago IL 60622.

During this event, all Green Lantern Press books will be available at a $5 discount.

*Proceeds from A Season In Hell will go to St. Jude’s Childrens Research Hospital

—about the readers—


As per CLOPS. : Using lyrical language, repetition and abstraction, King retells the Odyssey representing the original characters as surface icons who move in and out of the first person. Implicating the reader in the action of war, King reforms the epic. Printed in an edition of 250 with color plates by artist Brian McNearneyDevin King lives and works in Chicago.

John Beer’s first book, The Waste Land and Other Poems, was published by Canarium Books in April 2010.  His work has appeared in Verse, The Brooklyn Rail, Denver Quarterly, Crowd, and elsewhere.

Other Forthcoming Events at 1511 N Milwaukee (whilst we keep looking for The New Space which will one day (fingers crossed) happen):

Friday April 23rd8pm

As part of the Robert Duncan Symposium, The Green Lantern hosts a reading organized by The Chicago Poetry Project featuring Stephen Collis, Joseph Donahue, Siobhán Scarry and Brian Teare

Tuesday May 4th 7pm

The Parlor, a monthly reading series and podcast, is pleased to have Rob Elder come and read excerpts from his forthcoming book, Last Words of The Executed, (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

May 18th 7:30 pm

Jenny Boully will read as part of The Chicago Poetry Project’s on-going series.

June 15th 7:30pm

Brenda Cardenas will read as part of The Chicago Poetry Project’s on-going             series.

for more information regarding any of these events please contact Caroline Picard at lantern.g@gmail.com.