One of my favorite experiences that came out of writing the dramachicks blog was the chance I had to interview playwright Caridad Svich. I was introduced to Svich’s play Twelve Ophelias while doing research for my own play, Drowning Ophelia. Later, when working on my MFA paper entitled Maidens and Monsters: Manifestations of Ophelia and Medea in Modern Playwriting, I happened upon Svich’s play Wreckage, a strange twist on the Medea legend that focuses on two very little heard from characters: Medea’s murdered sons.
True to the unique style found in Twelve Ophelias, Svich again takes shadows of classic characters and shifts them into whole other worlds, or more precisely, afterworlds. Wreckage focuses on Medea’s sons and raises similar questions as Twelve Ophelias. When Medea’s sons die – or when Ophelia dies – where do they go? What if they were to re-enter a strange, recycled world? Would they be destined to tread a similar path or is there any hope of them breaking the tragic cycle of their previous lives?
In Wreckage, Svich awakens two boys – who share common vocabulary and memories with the sons of Medea – and sends them off in separate directions. One to the Nurse, a transvestite who teaches the younger son to dress like a girl and sell himself for money; the elder to a married woman and her husband who make something of a pet of him and play cruel love games with him. The boys realize that for true love and compassion, perhaps they need to really find each other. It is then that the elder’s lover – who Svich indicates is also the mother of both boys – kills them. They awaken again in a similar manner and the younger wonders if the direction in which their life has moved can change.
Medea in this version is sexual, selfish, teasing, and cruel. At times she seems to express love, but she it is twisted almost beyond recognition. “I held them in my arms,” she says to her husband at one point, “your lover, my lover, our boys. They were like children again somehow so willing so sweet all anger gone each one indebted to my touch, wanting so much to belong to this world. And I made them believe it. I said Yes, come with me. You are here now. Safe.” (Svich, “Wreckage” 90). This Medea reflects a modern and, if possible, an even less sympathetic restlessness that leads her to do terrible things. She wants something from her husband, and from her marriage, that she isn’t getting. She uses her son rather than loving him. Her marriage is made up of passion more than substance. All in all, she makes quite an unsympathetic character, but her flaws reflect a much more human Medea, one that is selfish more than hateful, and one that experiences yearnings that are more often experienced by the modern woman than bouts of murderous rage. This woman may be Medea as seen by her children if they were older and a bit more aware of what was going on around them when they were killed. Wreckage is not kind to this Medea, but it certainly makes her an interesting and more relatable villain.
One of the things I really love about Wreckage (as well as Twelve Ophelias) is Svich’s ability to recreate classic characters while holding true to their essence. Wreckage is a very different take on the Medea story, yes, but deep down it is the same story, reminding us of the pattern of the world: all this has happened before, and it will all happen again.