“Medea is a Floridian in chilling ‘Violet Hour'”

by Christine Dolen

Before Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, before the too-frequent tragic headlines about murdered Florida children, there was Medea.

Created by Euripides in 431 BC, Medea is among Greek tragedy’s most horrifying yet complex characters, a spurned wife who exacts vengeance upon her faithless husband, Jason, in multiple ways, including the unfathomable murder of her children.

Fort Lauderdale’s Outré Theatre Company has created a new, taut version of Euripides’ tragedy set in present-day South Florida. Adapted by Shannon Ouellette and Outré artistic director Skye Whitcomb, “The Violet Hour: A Modern Medea” takes its title from a phrase suggesting dusk in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”

Starring Outré managing director Sabrina Lynn Gore as Medea and her real-life husband, Tim Gore, as Jason, the production in the Broward Center’s Abdo New River Room runs barely over an hour. But what an intense hour it is.

The themes and thrust of “The Violet Hour” follow Euripides, though the language is largely contemporary. Here, Medea and Jason have just one son, who’s played by Nathanael Schultz, a particularly adorable kindergartener. The boy is watched over, fretted over, by Nurse (Beverly Blanchette), a nanny who is rightfully worried that the raging Medea is descending into madness.

And no wonder: Middle-aged Jason is about to wed the “barely legal” (as Medea puts it) 18-year-old daughter of wealthy developer Kreon (Jim Gibbons). It’s hardly surprising that Medea — who, as it turns out, rejected her family and gruesomely murdered her brother in order to be with Jason — isn’t handling hubby’s rejection well. Maybe he should have thought about her fratricide before taking up with the new squeeze, whose daddy orders Medea to get lost and leave her boy behind.

Whitcomb, the play’s director, and Ouellette (who serves as its dramaturg) have turned the Greek chorus into wedding guests. Liz Dikinson, Rachel Finley, Daryl Fortson, Kitt Marsh and Sandy Stock have some interaction with Medea, but they also observe and comment, whispering or chanting or gossiping from different spots in the Abdo. That staging helps to make “The Violet Hour” one of Outré’s better uses of what can be a challenging space.

The cast, which includes Jovon Jacobs as a tutor still loyal to Jason, dives ever more deeply into a tragedy that becomes nearly unbearable to watch, particularly as it nears its end, when the unhinged Medea and the child she is about to turn into a sacrifice sing “You Are My Sunshine” as part of a pre-bedtime ritual.

As in Euripides, Medea’s crimes occur offstage, but mournful recorded music from cellist Andreina Kasper and a shift to blood-red lighting by designer Julia LaVault underscore the emotional horrors of her actions.

Medea is a role that, like Hamlet or King Lear, is an aspirational test for a serious stage actor. Gore’s skills are suited to this present-day, reshaped version of the play, as she persuasively communicates Medea’s cunning, deceptiveness, rage and deepening madness. For a time, she stirs some sympathy for a woman scorned. And then, as does a seemingly endless line of modern-day Medeas, she makes us recoil as the tragedy hits home.