Manhattan Medea

[This page by Michael Navratil]

Manhattan Medea (1999)

Manhattan Medea is a play by Dea Loher which premiered in Graz in 1999. In her play, Loher transposes the ancient myth of Medea − who murders her own children in order to punish her husband Jason who abandoned her for another woman − into modern-day Manhattan and sets the story in an immigrant milieu.

On the level of plot, Manhattan Medea deviates only little from the original myth. Medea leaves her family for her husband Jason and finances their crossing to the United States. However, when after several years Jason sees the chance of entering into a new, financially more profitable marriage with Claire, the daughter of a rich sweatshop boss, he abandons his first wife. Desperate, Medea kills Claire with a poisoned wedding dress and smothers her own child.

In Manhattan Medea, Loher addresses issues of feminism, the corrupting effects of capitalism and the precarious situation of immigrant workers in Western countries as well as the emotional predicaments of the relationship between Jason and Medea. But most importantly, her play deals with meta-poetic questions of art, reception and mimesis. This becomes evident not only in the play’s multilayered treatment of text and visual art but also in Loher’s addition of two characters to the original story: the doorman and painter Velazquez and the transvestite Deaf Daisy. These figures, who are derivative − Velazquez imitates the Spanish Baroque painter of the same name, Deaf Daisy imitates gender norms − yet at the same time autonomous, render palpable the idea that reception is not a mere process of imitation but may serve as the precondition for something genuinely new. Thus, Manhattan Medea can be regarded − like all modern adaptations of Medea, but arguably more emphatically than most − as a play about the reception of myths and about the creative reception of art in general.

Further Reading in German

Birgit Haas, Das Theater der Dea Loher: Brecht und (k)ein Ende (Bielefeld: Asthesis, 2006)

Antje Roeben, ‘Manhattan Medea: ein Mythos der Erinnerung?’, Zagreber germanistische Beiträge 17 (2008), 93-101

Inge Stephan, ‘Gewalt-Szenarien. Medea-Mythen in der Literatur der Gegenwart: Taboris “M” (1985) und Lohers “Manhattan Medea” (1999)’, in Robert Weninger (ed.), Gewalt und kulturelles Gedächtnis (Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 2005), pp. 95-110

Sebastian Wogenstein, ‘“Meine Nachahmung eine Neuerschaffung”: Aneignung und Ent-Stellung in Dea Lohers “Manhattan Medea”’, Monatshefte für deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur 99:3 (2007), 298-315