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'Medea' is grim but offers classic acting, unforgettable viewing

The entire TV audience becomes a grieving Greek chorus in the new PBS production of Euripedes's ''Me-dea.'' Medea (PBS, Wednesday, 8-9:30 p.m., and also other evenings, check local listings for premiere and repeats)m is not exactly 90 minutes of easy viewing. It is, instead, an unforgettable lesson in the unaccountable danger of uncontrolled emotions. And, incidentally, a lesson in classical acting which may remain as unforgettable for viewers as the tragic theme itself.

Part of the ''Kennedy Center Tonight'' series, ''Medea'' is re-created from last year's Robert Whitehead production of Euripe-des's classic tragedy (adapted by Robinson Jeffers). Now produced by WQED, Pittsburgh, it stars Zoe Caldwell in the title role, with Dame Judith Anderson playing the nurse in the play which Mr. Jeffers originally wrote for her in the lead.

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Miss Caldwell's Medea - a woman scorned, rejected, and betrayed - is a high-tension, unrelievedly stark performance, filled with fury and vengeance. If , perhaps, there is a flaw in her interpretation it is the lack of even one iota of the vulnerability. Dame Judith counterpoints the shrill harshness of Medea with a calm melancholy.

The simple, almost symbolic sets work wonderfully as an almost unnoticed backdrop for a play in which emotion duels with emotion, hatred and love intertwine, personal hurt acts as an irrational trigger for revenge. Euripedes - and Jeffers - have given us a superb spectacle in which rampant resentment overpowers acquiescence to personal tragedy. Miss Caldwell's performance, which brought her a Tony Award in last year's revival, will undoubtedly make her a strong Emmy contender this year.

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