Saturday, October 13, 2012

Theatre For Thought, October 13, 2012

Eloi ArchamBaudoin and Jennifer Morehouse

joel fishbane

Emma Tibaldo has never been shy when it comes to her thoughts on Medea, the famed murderess of Greek myth. “She’s always been a hero to me,” says the artistic director of Playwrights Workshop Montreal, one of Canada’s longest-running play development centres. It’s a bold statement, given that Medea murders her own children to enact revenge on a faithless husband. But Emma Tibaldo sees it as something more then just an act of infanticide. “She’s a hero to me because of her willingness to do something extra-ordinary to get justice.”

Her ability to sympathize with a woman who commits a heinous act may be what makes her the ideal choice to direct Nadine Desrocher’s English translation of The Medea Effect, originally penned by Québécois playwright Suzie Bastien in 2005. Both a modern tale of trauma and an emotional tug-of-war between two lost souls, the piece stars Jennifer Morehouse and Eloi ArchamBaudoin. It’s the latest show by Talisman Theatre, the Montreal based company that produces English language premieres of Francophone plays. Founded by both a director and a designer, its shows always find a way to incorporate design into the narrative. Designers often start a year in advance and Tibaldo works in conjunction with them to make sure that both text and design work together to highlight the play’s themes. 

It’s a play about gender and power – what is the arsenal and artillery at our disposal?

These themes, says Tibaldo, have to do entirely with the traces left behind in the wake of traumatic events. “Its structure is Greek in style,” says Tibaldo. “But it’s dealing with women now and men now. It’s a play about gender and power – what is the arsenal and artillery at our disposal?”

Tibaldo has a long history with Medea, dating back almost a decade when she directed the original tragedy for the National Theatre School. At the time, Jennifer Morehouse was slated to play the eponymous role until other commitments forced her to step aside. Now 10 years later Morehouse is back where she started – much like her character in The Medea Effect who bursts into an audition for Medea 10 years after she herself played the woman on stage. The conversation between her and the harried director soon becomes a roller-coaster ride as each forces the other to uncover the past. 

“I connect with her on an emotional level,” Tibaldo explains. “The play is really just about a cry for help.”

Tibaldo isn’t the only one who finds some sympathy in Medea. In the original myth, Medea eventually finds sanctuary with King Aegeus in Athens. Notably, she remains the only criminal in Greek myth who is never punished by the Gods – even Hercules had to perform his 12 labours after murdering his wife. In modern times, Medea continues to resonate: when scientists discovered that the flour beetle could produce a toxin that would kill her own children, they called it MEDEA (Maternal Effect Dominant Embryonic Arrest). 

Suzie Bastien’s play has little to do with quirks of flour beetles, but Tibaldo does admit there’s a lot of scientific principles in the play. The text explores the consequences of rational vs. non-rational thought and ultimately suggests, according to Tibaldo, that conflicting things “like intellect and heat, invariably work together”. But in the end it’s still a story about two people reaching for each other in the dark. “We see good people do horrible things,” sighs Tibaldo. “How can we remain human? I think this play is an example of a woman who is trying to find her humanity again.”

The Medea Effect translated by Nadine Desrochers from the text by Suzie Bastien plays at Theatre La Chapelle in Montreal from October 11 – 20, 2012. For tickets visit or call 514.843.7738 

This seems the appropriate place to mention a new initiative being spearheaded by Nightwood Theatre. For 33 years, the independent Toronto theatre has been celebrating women’s voices by creating opportunities for female artists to practice their craft in all disciplines of theatre.
Since equality in the arts is still – sadly - an issue, Nightwood has sounded a call to action: a 10,000 Women Campaign in support of women’s voice in the arts.
For every $10 you donate, they invite you to honour a woman of your choice. When they hit the goal of 10,000 names, they will recognize the women publicly with an original art exhibit. 
For more information, or to donate, visit 

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