Seana McKenna: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Medea?

     Medea opened yesterday in Toronto’s Canon Theatre and as a gift to cast members, Seana McKenna had shirts made with “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Medea?” written across a bloody-looking letter “M.” This is, of course, a nod to the Mirvish production of The Sound of Music, whose lead was cast by the CBC reality show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

     Any problems about Medea have been solved by this production, the third time that Seana has performed this role with Scott Wentworth as Medea’s husband Jason and Mile Potter directing. The story is not easy to take in. Yet this 2,500-year-old tale of the hell let loose by a woman scorned by her husband, who marries a young blonde, is as contemporary as a Dr. Phil show. The lesson of the play might be: don’t mess with your ex-wife.

     Despite its horrific ending, the tragedy is not all doom and gloom. There is enough irony and sarcastic humour to lighten the tone even as we gasp at what Medea is driven to.

     Seana doesn’t play her as a one-note witch or madwoman. Medea does practise “dark arts” that include healing and the use of medicines, which was enough to brand women as witches only a few hundred years ago. And she does cross the line into mad revenge, but Seana plays her sympathetically. She has Medea swing between the extremes of a discarded wife abandoned in a foreign land to a supernatural force that controls thunder, lightning and fire. Even her idea to commit the ultimate unnatural act that even wild animals don’t do, is more the result of King Aegeus’s belief that to die childless is the worst thing that can happen to a man, than her own simple thirst for revenge.

     This is not fare for a mindless fun night out. If you’re going through a painful divorce, are a man considering stepping outside your marriage or want to see powerful performances in a shocking production, this is a cathartic cautionary tale to see with friends. Book club groups are sure to love it.

     Additonal notes: Seana is our regular theatre columnist and she has written about performing Medea in the December issue of Escarpment Views.

     A pre-show talk about the myth is given for free, one hour before each performance. This is a useful introduction to the play.

     Seana will give a live interview on CBC radio’s Q program at 10 a.m. on Thursday Jan. 15.

     Do you agree with my critique? Did I miss the boat about this show or the myth of Medea? Share your views.


  • My goodness. Medea, and by association, Escarpment Views is certainly getting media coverage!
    Barbara Jennings

  • Tom Hubert gave us permission to post this portion of a message from him as a comment on this blog post:
    “I loved Medea. The unfortunate thing is the ending sends the audience into shock and I don’t think the cast receives the kudos it deserves. I knew the story. I knew where the dialogue was taking it. I knew she was going to murder those babies. But I think we all hope the same thing. That maybe this time, at this performance she won’t. Of course if that was the case, we wouldn’t still be watching it twenty-five hundred years later.”
    Thanks for this note, Tom!

  • As a cast member in this production of Medea (I play a soldier and understudy the parts of Jason and the Tutor), I have a unique perspective, having listened and seen it several dozen times since it’s orginal opening in Winnipeg back in November. I can tell you this, it never gets tired! If you have not seen the show yet, and you have a chance to see it in Toronto before it closes on Febuary 8th, the only advice I can give is simply, SEE IT! I have three scenes where I stand on stage, watching guard to make sure Medea doesn’t try any funny stuff on my superiors, first Creon the King, then Jason her ex. And every time, my character watches in amazement as Medea’s masterful skills with the power of language, manipulates both men to bend to her verbal will, allowing her to carry out the inevitable ending of tragic doom. This soldier can tell you this, the power of that woman (not to mention the power of the actress playing that woman) will never be defeated. The play always ends the same, as the nurse says, “it was destined before she was even born”. So this production was destined for greatness before it was thought of some fifteen years ago. Enjoy the last chance if you can(Who knows, it’s already been revived twice).
    Thanks for introducing me to Escarpement Views. My new Theatre Company, The Grey Bruce Arts Collective, is well on it’s way, currently based in The Meaford/Thornbury area, and we look forward to working with your publication many times in the future.
    See you from the stage.
    Jamie Robinson

  • Hey thanks, Jamie, for this comment! It’s very cool having a cast member comment on a production while it’s still on. I think it’s a great way to give a full perspective on a production.
    We’ll be watching out for you! Break a leg.

  • Seana’s performance was excellant, which is good because she was on stage for virtually the entire play. Medea’s personallity comes across as a strongly motivated, scheming, powerful womem, who has only revenge on her mind, and makes the most of her oppertunities.
    All men should take great care, because such women may walk amoung us.

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