What’s Miami-born, Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Yara Travieso’s take on Euripides’ legendary character Medea, the so-called hysterical foreign woman who murdered her children? Imagine “Sábado Gigante” as a feminist Greek tragedy, but instead of Don Franciso at the realm, there’s a shady Almodóvar-esque female host provoking her standing room audience acting as the Greek chorus to judge Medea’s barbarisms for themselves.
Yes, La Medea, a made-for-camera theatrical production with a second Greek chorus of home viewers sending in comments (i.e., don’t kill the children, kill Jason!) is as liberated and complex as its controversial heroine. Viewers are immediately swept up in its glittery and multi-mirrored dance performances, its claustrophobic backstage dressing room shots, and enchanted by an ultra-hip live band narrating Medea’s tale with an original score and libretto by Sam Crawford.
Labeled a “Latin-disco-pop-feminist variety show,” it was actually performed, shot, and edited in real-time by Travieso back in 2017 at BRIC House and as an interactive live film commission by Performance Space New York, co-presented by the Dance Films Association and powered by Twitch TV. But in genre-bending Rocky Horror Picture Show fashion, La Medea has earned such a cult following since then that when the pandemic hit and theaters closed and Travieso suggested on social media that they stream it live for a special viewing, she garnered so much interest that BRIC House decided to make a virtual event out of it.
La Medea will be available for a one-time free streamed viewing on BRIC’s YouTube channel today, Tuesday May 19th at 8pm EST, 5pm PST. Like in the original performance, viewers will be able to live chat in their comments with the performers and creators as it streams, and the screening will be followed by a Q&A with Travieso, Crawford, and lead dancer Rena Butler (Medea).
Watching it from home, I can tell you it contains all the raw breathless excitement of a live production. It’s like you are there. And in these times of pandemic where we are all starved for stimulus other than what’s in our fridge or who has disappeared from the Zoom chat, this is a thrilling rollercoaster of classic Greek and Latinx drama.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, says the proverb. That hellish fury is what La Medea conveys as you watch our hero wreak coldly hot-blooded revenge on the father of her children, Jason the Argonaut, the man she loves and who used her and then dropped her for a younger and even richer princess who wasn’t a foreigner.
In this production — where it’s practically all women of color on stage and off — Travieso counteracts history’s stereotypical portrayal by amplifying and celebrating her foreign female complexity, desperation, and giant-sized ovaries instead.
Medea as Muse
Born in Miami to a Venezuelan mom and Cuban dad, both of whom were artists, Travieso, 33, eventually made her way to New York’s Juilliard School and performed as a dancer with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. When she transitioned into the film world she soon became frustrated by the male-dominated industry that she felt limited her.
Medea’s story would become her calling.
She first read the play when she was 16, when she was blossoming into an intense young artist who felt like her voice was not being heard. She recalls reading Medea’s story and thinking that she had never seen a woman in a play or literature be so fierce about her existence and stand up so vocally for what she believed in. Revisiting the work as an adult woman, she explains, felt like a pubescent rebellion against everything she was taught to be true. By pushing against and rejecting the most prominent and prolific Greek myth ever written, she was able to write her own true way into this world.
When I first spoke to Travieso about her odyssey as a Latinx artist and what drew her to the Greek myth she told me: “With La Medea I needed to rebel against every archetype that was ever written that I had been boxed into personally and culturally; ‘a hysterical foreign woman that is emotional, dangerous, intense, manipulative and not to be trusted.’ I knew that this character, as originally written by Euripides, was not a real woman, instead, she was a projection of the fears of the men around her.”
Travieso’s re-imagined female warrior for immigrants has only been remembered for murdering her children, but there was much more to her she argues. She was an immigrant, an “other,” and she was banished from her new country. There is ageism, xenophobia, and misogyny at play. She is exiled because they fear her. Because of the way she looks and acts.
In “So You Could Live, Love,” one of Crawford’s original songs for the production, Medea says:
So that you feel it, I’m gonna let you live, love.
Killing you is too kind for me, love.
You should live a long life and reflect, love.
I’m gonna do this deed,
And when this deed is done,
You’ll be a widower and childless man.
A pariah without friends in this land.
Because I’m gonna kill our children
Yes, I’m gonna kill our children tonight, love….
Having studied Medea’s character so closely, Travieso believes that her only way of avenging Jason’s betrayal was by murdering their two sons, which in those days meant his power, his legacy, for a man’s power goes down in history through his male kin.
Nothing depicts the struggles of women as well as Greek mythology and Medea is the queen of all legends. That pervasive figure of the wild, jealous foreign sorceress who vengefully murders her own children has haunted us all.
In her, Travieso found her perfect subject and flipped the switch on Euripides to call the story’s bluff. “She is a man’s worst nightmare,” laughs Travieso. “With so much complexity comes her power.”