The usually pleasant Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts grows a lot less comfortable during The Violet Hour: A Modern Medea. The Outré Theatre Company’s intriguing production, which runs through March 27, is adapted from Euripides’ classic tragedy about a woman who exacts a dreadful revenge on her faithless husband. In the cozy room, with a segment of the stage stretching into the audience, those actions feel especially close, personal — and unthinkable. Director Skye Whitcomb is not about to let you look away.
Adapted by Shannon Ouellette and Whitcomb (who also designed the set), The Violet Hour unfolds in a contemporary setting and runs a brisk 75 minutes with no intermission. That’s not a lot of time to explore context, but the play’s short running time does not detract from its ability to move you.
A chorus of ominous murmurs, chants and shrieks rise as the lights go down, an unnerving touch that expertly foreshadows the anguish to follow and enlivens a somewhat wooden opening monologue from the Nurse (Beverly Blanchette), which sets the scene. Medea (Sabrina Lynn Gore, Outré’s managing director) rages furiously off stage (The Violet Hour pares her two children down to one, a smart decision in such a stripped-down production).
Medea has a good reason to fume. She and her son have been abandoned by her husband Jason (Tim Gore — and yes, these Gores are married in real life). Jason has a hot, rich, young paramour whom he’s about to wed. The young woman’s powerful father (Jim Gibbons) wants the unpredictable Medea out of town where she can’t wreak any havoc, so he banishes her. She’s a barbarian and can’t be trusted; after all, she carved up her own brother to save Jason’s life.
Medea, of course, resists this callous demand for her exile, begs for more time and is granted a brief reprieve. As she stews and considers the fate of her little boy (played with solemn adorableness by Nathanael Schultz), a dark plan unfolds.
Not all of the translation to the present-day makes sense in The Violet Hour: Believing that Medea has literally cut her brother into pieces in this generic contemporary setting seems odd and unlikely. Medea, we’re told, is foreign and as such suspect, a theme the playwrights might have incorporated a little more precisely into the script. Without specifics, we’re left wondering where and when and why she’d have to take such a drastic step.
Still, rewriting Euripides takes nerve, and the very act of staging material originally produced in 431 B.C. in an accessible way deserves admiration. Overall, The Violet Hour is emotionally affecting, its chilling moments growing as the story marches toward its terrible conclusion (you may never hear the song You Are My Sunshine again without shuddering). Adding to the tension is the transformation of the traditional Greek chorus into a group of well-dressed women who surround the room from time to time, enclosing Medea — and the audience — in a web of dread.
As Medea, Gore is fierce, lost, spurned and discarded but ultimately unknowable. We feel for her — until she destroys our empathy, and we simply can’t feel for her any longer. But in the wake of Andrea Yates and Susan Smith, Outré’s unnerving production forces us to consider her pain.
If You Go
What: “The Violet Hour: A Modern Medea” by Shannon Ouellette and Skye Whitcomb; adapted from Euripides
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Tickets: $30; www.browardcenter.org