The Backstage column in the June 7 Style section misspelled the name of Paul MacWhorter, one of the directors of Washington Shakespeare Company's production of "Medea." (Published 6/10/2005)

Washington is awash in Greek tragedy -- and we do not refer to that contentious amphitheater of the free world, Capitol Hill.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's "Hecuba" plays at the Kennedy Center through Sunday, Synetic Theater's "Jason and the Argonauts" runs through June 25 at the Rosslyn Spectrum, and Washington Shakespeare Company's "Medea" is at the Clark Street Playhouse through July 3. Scena Theatre's three-play rep, "Thersites," "I, Cyclops" and "Gladiator," adapted by Artistic Director Robert McNamara from Homer and Roman literature, runs at the Warehouse through July 10.

Synetic and Washington Shakespeare explore in depth and wildly different styles the motives of Medea, the legendary sorceress, healer and, according to Euripides, killer of her children to spite her faithless husband, Jason.

Washington Shakespeare's production of Euripides' tragedy uses a spare, modern translation by Alistair Elliot. Euripides takes up the story after Jason has told Medea he intends to take a new wife, the daughter of King Creon.

The directors -- Jose Carrasquillo and Paul McWhorter -- looked for a "more psychologically dense" translation, Carrasquillo says, that shows "what pushes [Medea] to the plan that will ultimately bring the doom that it does."

Delia Taylor, who plays Medea, describes their approach as "humanist and sympathetic."

"Nobody could condone her actions. We're not doing that, but we're trying to understand them," she says. Her favorite line and one that sums up the production is, "The rage in my heart is stronger than my reason."

McWhorter says, "We just wanted people thinking about her humanity and not thinking of her as this Norma Desmond."

The molten red minimalist set -- a circular platform with a sandy pit at the center -- is intended to imply a volcano -- a metaphor for Medea's passion and rage.

"Simple is never easy," says designer Giorgos Tsappas, who honed the design for months.

Medea's children are puppets with molded fiberglass heads created by Marie Schneggenburger. The production includes no recorded sounds or music. The actors at times do wordless vocal effects.

In Synetic's "Jason," adapted by Suzen Mason from a 19th-century Austrian play, the central visual metaphor is ropes. On designer Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili's set, they hang ominously over the stage and are used to suggest Jason's ship, the Argo and other props. Medea (played by Irina Tsikurishvili) takes hold of them to kill her babies -- also puppets, but faceless ones of white cloth.

Synetic works in a dance-infused physical style. "When we don't have enough words to express our feelings," Paata Tsikurishvili says, "I'm trying to describe [them] by actions." Synetic uses dark, churning symphonic music by Giya Kancheli, a favorite composer of director Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili and a fellow native of the Republic of Georgia. Medea, they note, was from Colchis, present-day Georgia, where she is celebrated as an ancient healer, not a killer. But in the play, they went the tragic and murderous route.

In a way, Synetic's "Jason" is the prequel to "Medea." It begins with the "barbarian" sorceress helping Greek adventurer Jason (Greg Marzullo) abscond with the Golden Fleece, followed by their passionate elopement, his betrayal in Corinth and her murder of their children.

Tsikurishvili's production reflects first on the Fleece as a "symbol of wealth and power," then on "Jason and Medea's drama," Paata Tsikurishvili says. "I try to put the audience in a position where they sympathize with [Medea]." He also wanted to "find out how much we human beings have changed [since] 20 centuries ago" in what we do for greed, love and revenge.

Not much, he concludes.

Wise Casting

"Everybody concerned knew that it was not typical casting," says Rick Foucheux, who plays Mason Marzac, a reclusive, nebbishy gay financial adviser in "Take Me Out." In Richard Greenberg's play, which runs at Studio Theatre through July 10, Mason falls lyrically and mathematically in love with baseball after he inherits an Adonis-like gay baseball star as a client.

Foucheux, at 50, is perhaps a little older than the character as written. "But I really fell for this guy," he says. Also, "to cast the role a little bit older and to cast him as not a fit, svelte, attractive gay man . . . speaks to the problems we have in this country with ageism and to some extent with sizeism."

One question that came up in rehearsal was how fey, if at all, to make Mason. "To people who say, you're not gay! I say, yeah," the actor says, mildly. "It's not uncomfortable for me to adapt a feminine mannerism." It's called acting, after all.

"With Mason, I felt this tender soul inside who had this strong feminine connection, and that's the way it manifested itself. I got very little physical direction" from director Kirk Jackson, Foucheux says. "We just watched how this developed and that's what we ended up with."

Whether Mason knows it or not, he is very funny. Foucheux says he has to be careful not to play him for laughs. "The first time [Mason] refers to his neighbors -- who always look at him as if he's wearing white shoes -- that line always gets a laugh. Except that one night it didn't," says the actor. "I thought maybe it was because I was expecting it to get a laugh."

Foucheux is on a roll, job-wise, only recently appearing in "The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?" at Arena Stage, "The Diary of Anne Frank" at Round House, "Jesus Christ Superstar" with Open Circle and "Cooking With Elvis" at Woolly Mammoth.

"I feel like I've grown into a certain age where there are a lot of roles I can play -- just by virtue of the fact that I've stuck with it and stuck in town," he says.

"I feel sorta like Mason, you know. I'm finally coming into my own."

Follow Spots

* "If This Hat Could Talk: The Untold Stories of Dr. Dorothy Height," a musical theater piece about the life of the civil rights leader, will premiere at the Lincoln Theatre on June 15-26. Tony winner George Faison wrote, directed and choreographed. Joe Coleman (once lead singer of the Platters) wrote the music and lyrics. Call 202-397-7328 for tickets. Visit www.vanjoproductions.com to read more about the show.

* The 24th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival of new works begins Friday and continues through Aug. 18. Seven theater companies will present 11 pieces by Maryland writers. Visit www.baltimoreplaywrightsfestival.org or call 410-276-2153.

Multi-Medea: Irina Tsikurishvili as the Greek sorceress in Synetic's "Jason and the Argonauts" and, at right, Delia Taylor in the title role of Washington Shakespeare Company's "Medea."Rick Foucheux in Studio Theatre's "Take Me Out": "I felt this tender soul inside."