Balance and imbalance in Greek tragedy plays out on tilting stage

COURTESY: IMAGO THEATRE - Actors Todd Van Voris (left) and Anne Sorce (middle) join a three-woman chorus in acting on a moving stage in Imago Theatre's 'Medea,' April 21-May 20. It's been a 'challenge' to get 'sea legs' on the stage, Van Voris says.A theater company producing a Greek tragedy wouldn't normally scream headlines, but Imago Theatre's "Medea" won't be your normal kind of play.

It'll take place on a 17-square-foot stage, and in the theater's dark environment and strategic use of lighting, it'll appear to be floating in air. The stage will be supported by a single pole underneath, but there'll be plenty of orchestrated movement as actors Anne Sorce and Todd Van Voris and the three-woman chorus play their roles on what could be described as a three-dimensional seesaw or a gyroscope.

"Yes," Van Voris says, "we've got our sea legs."

The stage is called the "No Exit Stage," because the same kind of floating platform was used for Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit" play put on by Imago nearly 20 years ago.

Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle, Imago co-directors, learned from the teachings of theater icon Jacques Lecoq, who influenced the performing arts and taught "the balance of the stage." Back in 1998, and through 2009, Mouawad took Lecoq literally with "No Exit," and now the concept returns with "Medea," April 21 through May 20.

Imago has long been an inventive and creative theater outfit, with its mask theater "Frogz" and "Zoo Zoo" and recent mechanical puppet hit "La Belle, Lost in the World of the Automaton," not to mention the minimalism of Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" and "The Homecoming."

"We've been looking for a play to do on this set since we first started it," Mouawad says. "It's mesmerizing."

It's like the audience is the camera and the stage is moving to show angles and motion.

"You have to think of the set as a three-dimensional seesaw. It's like a gyroscope," he says. The stage moves according to the position of the actors.

"A lot of terminology we use is balance and imbalance. It's all about weight. There is quite a bit of physics involved," Mouawad says.

COURTESY: IMAGO THEATRE - Anne Sorce plays the lead role in 'Medea.' Says co-star Todd Van Voris: 'She is grounded through the floor — even on a tilted set.'Van Voris says Sorce seemed to pick up the balance/imbalance concept faster. But he has adapted as well.

It's pretty clear that a Greek tragedy can be fairly spiced up with a moving stage.

"It's like, in some sense, another character of the play," Van Voris says. "It's like an instrument, yet it becomes a further extension of what you're doing. You feel the power in your feet by moving millimeters; you're shifting the whole landscape.

"It is a challenge, because it's being fit to a show. The show is imposed on the set as much as the set is imposed on the show. ... It starts to take on a language of its own, a physical vocabulary by the way the stage is moving."

Sorce says she's using muscles that she's not used to using to balance and "I find it hard, because I'm on the stage and I don't know the experience from the audience. I'm not seeing the shifts, turns and angles that you would from sitting on the outside and watching it go."

Mouawad admits that "I don't know how it'll play ... I'm nervous about it." He doesn't think anything will break, but whether the stage serves the Greek tragedy well remains to be seen.

Van Voris has done two other plays with Imago and Mouawad, and he'll also work with him on Mouawad's production for the Portland Opera this summer.

"You always expect something different from Jerry," Van Voris says. "He's driven by his curiosity; he only works on things that interest and challenge him."

The play itself is about Medea, the daughter of a king and later wife to the hero Jason (played by Van Voris) and then a vengeful enchantress.

Sorce plays the lead role.

"She's an outstanding performer, the reason I wanted to do this show in the first place," Van Voris says. "She's one of the most dynamic and excellent performers I've ever seen. She has a great physical background; she also had Lecoq training as Jerry and Carol did. She has a more expressive range just within her physical capabilities. I figured just by working with her I'd learn more about being in my body."

Says Sorce, of the Medea role: "I love the line, 'The wheels are turning/We cannot step off the road.' Medea's emotions and passion are so intense, out of control. In the past, falling in love with Jason, she did incredibly wild, violent, extreme things for him, because of her love. So when he betrays her and destroys everything for her, the magnitude of her hurt and rage is immense."

Van Voris adds that Sorce is "so incredibly grounded ... Medea is going through enormous upheaval, and she is grounded through the floor — even on a tilted set."

"Medea" stages at 7 p.m. Thursdays and 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, April 21-May 20, at Imago Theatre, 17 S.E. Eighth Ave. Tickets are $29-$39; students/seniors are $19-$29. To purchase: For more:

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