You might find that headline a little glib, but if you look around at the fire-colored elms and oaks around us, you'll see that the earth kills its darlings every year. Autumn is Mother Nature's way of reminding us that she brought us into this world, as my mother never fails to remind me, and she can take us out. (Though it's famously a Bill Cosby line, I prefer to think my mom got it from Medea, who says of her doomed offspring, "I gave them life, now I give them death.")
Considering the wildfires in the Western US, the increasing intensity of storms all over, and the fact that global atmospheric carbon levels have just this month reached unacceptable concentrations permanently, I'd say nature is at least sharpening her knives.
But what does Seattle Shakespeare Company's production of Euripides's Medea (running through November 13) have to do with climate change? Well, if you're looking for a reason not to write Medea off as a psychopath, it's a useful metaphorical framework. She murders her own children to exact revenge on her husband, Jason (as in "and the Argonauts"), for leaving her so he can marry a richer and more powerful woman while also asking to keep her as a side piece—despite the fact that she made him who he was to begin with (I mean, kill him, sure, but the children?). It helps to read director Kelly Kitchens's presentation of this Greek classic as an ecofeminist critique of the patriarchy. Stop looking at me like that. It's a whole discipline.
Andrea Bryn Bush's scenic design and Kent Cubbage's lights associate Medea with elemental forces. The set glows aquamarine when the chorus consults her, and dead tree branches loom over her house, which otherwise looks like a dojo crossed with that tech-bro mansion from Ex Machina. That'll do for the eco part. The all-female and very Medea-sympathetic chorus repeats phrases like "We'd sing of men's outrageousness!" with knowing (and understandable) rage—the feminist interpretation is unmistakable.
Medea's infanticide metaphorically serves as a warning for us. Just as the pressures of trying to maintain power and dignity within a patriarchy drove Medea to kill her children, Kitchens's Medea argues, so the pressures we place on the planet will ultimately drive the earth to kill us. Happy decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.
All that academic stuff floats in the background. In the foreground is Alexandra Tavares's incredible lead performance. Her Medea is contemporary—funny and as far away from the Rubenesque scold of yore as you can get. Tavares plays her as a rom-com heroine who has been thrust into a tragedy—a cross between (forgive me) Rachel from Friends and Jenny Slate. Her laugh lines hit hardest, particularly the refrain "My husband's the vilest man alive." This humor increases our sympathy for Medea, and so deepens the emotional power of her ultimate, completely unsympathetic gesture.
Sylvester Foday Kamara's Jason is a highlight, too. He commands the stage like a general in a Shakespeare play, and his passionate pleas to hold his dead children at the end are agonizing to watch and hear. Though I will say I was completely distracted by the strangeness of the leather satchel he wears when he runs into the house following his children's murder. It's weirdly too small for him and it's cheap-looking, and this heartrending and complex moment is the first time we see him with it. I felt bad for noticing, but it would be as if you noticed that Leonardo DiCaprio, as he slowly slipped into the icy depths of the Atlantic at the end of Titanic, was wearing sunglasses. It was completely unignorable.
Kitchens has chosen an ethnically diverse cast, which more accurately reflects a Corinth connected by trade to "Ethiopia," as Greeks called what they knew of Africa, and several other countries, though I had trouble relating the racial dynamics onstage to political conversations in the United States. Yadira Duarte plays a frantic, Spanish-speaking Nurse, who self-subtitles for the sake of English-only speakers. But the frantic, Spanish-speaking nurse is a pretty tired stereotype, no? Kamara is black, and Tavares looks white, but Kamara's accent scans British (colonial), and in the play, Medea is the one who society casts out. Not much is made of the race of the characters one way or another, but because their diversity is clearly a conspicuous choice, it's worth wondering what further complexity might be lurking in this already delightfully complex production