A new production at Deutsches Theater attempts to improve on its source material.
Adapting films and books for the stage is a bit like marrying someone you see as a fixer-upper: you love them so much, you just want to prove how much better they’d be if they were a little different. Not a great foundation for a marriage, and maybe not for a stage production, either. Films pose more problems than books: Our familiarity with successful movies makes it hard for stage actors to make characters their own. And then the nagging question: why adapt in the first place?
One work attempting to answer that question right now is Medea.Stimmen from director Tilmann Köhler at Deutsches Theater’s Kammerspiele. Christa Wolf ’s novel, based on the story best known to us through Euripides’ play, is itself structured as a series of first-person narratives presenting the perspectives of different characters – a series of monologues, in other words. In that sense, the book was almost begging to be staged, and the text undoubtedly deserves high rank in the tradition of reinterpreted Greek tragedies: Medea, as Wolf reimagines her, was no perpetrator of infanticide but was set up to appear as such by a xenophobic Corinthian political elite that panicked when Medea started prying too deeply into its secrets. The production benefits from Karoly Reisz’s beautifully simple set design of a shallow pool of water taking up almost the entire stage and casting shadows of ripples against the back wall; the puppetry used to represent the children is even more affecting. Beyond Maren Eggert’s poised Medea, however, the acting is surprisingly uneven: Edgar Eckert’s Jason huffs and puffs but doesn’t blow anything down, and Helmut Mooshammer as one of Creon’s soothsayers needs to find a facial expression beyond raising an eyebrow and bulging his eyes. But at least one can see why the novel belongs on stage – as an important addition to a dialogue with our inherited Medeas.
Medea.Stimmen, May 11, 26, 20:00 (with English surtitles) Deutsches Theater