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Medea.

Greek Active's production of Euripides' Medea at Tugs found a site not unlike some of the elements of classical Athenean theatre. Tugs is a gay bar, known to be lesbian-friendly and to produce a variety of evening entertainments. The bar has a faithful following within the queer subculture of Seattle, which includes AIDS activists, graduate students, radical fairies and dykes, sex radicals, and even some few aging intellectuals such as this author. Tugs, then, like the Acropolis at the time of Euripides, is frequented by a certain coherent, though heterogeneous populace which shares specific political, historical, and cultural discourses.

Also similar to the Athenian theatre crowd, the Tugs audience identifies along the axis of a single gender, inviting the use of drag to gesture towards the absent, but existing "other" gender. Likewise, Tugs and ancient Athens both culturally and socially represent "homosexual" practices (if one can loosely employ that word for its ancient and clearly historically different practice) situating gender and sexual preference both along an axis of the same. This consonance of political opinion, gender identification, construction of desire, and social discourse lends to ancient Athens and to Tugs a stable, "in" style of discourse capable of constituting a chorus as a kind of character. Moreover, this semiotic stability is especially suited to Euripidean irony, which gestures outward through a set of allusions that only a tight-knit subculture can sustain.

At Tugs, Euripides' Medea offers the performance of gender, desire, power, and state that can, in an immediate and lively fashion, rather than in period production, or even obtuse critique, play out some of the vital issues that cause the community to cohere. For Euripidean Athens, Medea was a figure of the problematic relationship between the "feminine" and power, sex and generation, barbaric poison on civil-ized turf, either righteously condemned, or in Euripides, absolved, on stage; the Drag Queen, on Tugs' stage likewise performs the ambivalent attitudes in that subculture towards the history and image of the Drag Queen herself. The Tugs production prompted me to conjecture that Euripides might, in fact, have been playing on the Greek tradition of drag queens on its male stage - that his irony may, in part, have proceeded from the kind of self-referential distance the classical drag act creates. Further, that some evidence for a Euripidean play on the performance of drag might be found in Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae in which Euripides appears in drag, but is caught and abused. If Euripides does "play" with drag, with the ironies of representing women in the net of sex and patriarchal power, his Medea most squarely delivers the punch to the Jasons of the world as she ex-machina-exits. Thus, the casting of a drag queen as Medea would be not only historically accurate, but perhaps essentially Euripidean.

Canonical references aside, recent historical debates around the drag queen within the gay and lesbian communities make her a site for self-referential ironies of the representation of gay men. Many lesbian/gay pride parades have been fraught with in-fighting about how many drag queens may march, what is the relationship of this image to the lesbian community, as well as to the political agendas of gay and lesbian communities, etc. The drag queen is, in many instances, perceived as the representative of the earlier bar culture, wafting the perfume of ghettos as she enters and poisoning the climate of civil rights battles that count on lesbians and gays appearing as if men are men and women are women and civil respectability is securely in place in more recent lifestyles. In this way, the drag queen accurately images Medea, also a creature from an earlier, "barbaric" culture who poisons the climate Jason requires for his new, respectable marriage. Mark Mitchell, the Medea at Tugs, wore a silver post through his nose, sporting tattoos on his arms and a Cleopatra-like wig, tit rings, and blackened nipples - a neo-barbarian, an urban barbarian, bringing danger to the drag and pain to the appearance.

The chorus was three snap! queens, who added lip-synched songs to their Euripidean odes: "Don't Leave Me This Way," "I Will Survive," and a fragment from "The Greatest Love of All" - "I believe the children are our future." Not only did the lipsynching quote the history of drag queen performance, but it also quoted the Athenian singing, dancing chorus, which also, no doubt, referenced the Athenian street performances. As snap! queens, they offered the snapping of fingers in that dangerous, final style as gestures in the Euripidean text, snapping in zig-zag patterns that replicated the strophe, antistrophe, and epode of the original choruses' dance.

Jason, played by Tsilke Pearlman, appeared in Dyke leathers, with a tattoo around her arm of small, dark, dancing figures like the black vase paintings. Jason stood on the bar gesturing with a beer bottle which she rested in the crotch reminding one of the leather phalluses of the Greek comedies, as well as foregrounding the macho Jason. As a leather Dyke, Jason comes through in all his power, with whip on shoulder and beer in hand, he seemed the pilot of the Argos imperially sailing to "new" colonies. The fact that the play was cross-gender cast in each direction attested to a more recent sense, in the bars of gender parity between lesbians and gay men. This was not merely a male drag show. Although some lesbians were offended by the seemingly negative role in contrast to the heroic Medea, the new visible spectacle of lesbian sexuality, dressed out through leathers, in parity with gay male drag, seemed agreeably '90s after almost a decade of Dyke dowdiness.

The children were played as bratty, but beautiful, young, pliant leather boys in blonde wigs, who were constantly fondling one another and their parents. They were neither innocent nor outside the sexual economy of the tragedy. Yet their constant pleasure in sensual acts made their murder the catalyst into a colder social future.

The play began with a nightly news broadcast done in the studio, projected around the bar on the disco screens, providing the history of Medea, while the program, printed as the newspaper, The Corinthian, promised inside stories on "NEA Withdraws Funding From Obscene Pottery" and other timely take-offs. The stage was a tiny platform in the corner-primarily Medea's space. Jason played atop the actual bar, using this counter, this frontier of exchange where people nightly huddle to play out sexual attractions, jealousies, and heartbreaks. The translation was chosen by the director, Keenan Houlihan, for its dated, formal sound. Houlihan felt this kind of rhythm and formality matched the actual language of drag queens and needed little emendation. In fact, the production was surprisingly faithful to the text, making only small and insignificant changes. The actors handled the language with ease and the audience seemed concentrated on even the longer passages.

Medea's very campy exit (straight from Euripides) in the famous deus ex machina style was produced by video. She appeared as a "talking head" on several screens around the bar, beyond Jason's generational obsession and downfall, describing, in wonderful Euripidean irony, how he will age (a fate worse than death in certain gay circles).

So ended a marriage made by golden fleece which led to poisoned gold lame (the death dress). The form of ironic tragedy seemed familiar in this community both mourning and militant in the time of AIDS. People are weeping together, having witnessed the harshest suffering and death of their sensual children. They are living life daily with high tragedy - cruel blows of fate, and nobly fighting back with camp irony. Medea at Tugs.
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Title Annotation:Tugs, Seattle, Washington
Author:Case, Sue-Ellen
Publication:Theatre Journal
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1262
Previous Article:The Tempest.
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