Mod­ern take is true to Oedi­pus

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Philip Bran­des cal­en­dar@la­times.com

Back in an­cient Greece, Oedi­pus set the gold stan­dard for mommy is­sues. Nowa­days, though, his story can seem to hit the stage lug­ging three mil­len­nia worth of psy­cho­log­i­cal bag­gage — a “Dr. Phil” seg­ment with san­dals. All the more rea­son to ap­pre­ci­ate the fresh, con­tem­po­rary take in direc­tor Ron Sossi and his Odyssey Theatre En­sem­ble’s imag­i­na­tive adap­ta­tion, “Oedi­pus Machina.”

Ellen McLaugh­lin’s 2005 text ren­ders the dra­matic struc­ture and plot points of Sopho­cles’ clas­sic drama in clear, ac­ces­si­ble speech while still evok­ing its po­etic grandeur, al­beit at the cost of oc­ca­sion­ally over­stat­ing the ob­vi­ous.

Amid the drama’s se­ri­ously messed up par­entchild re­la­tion­ships, this ver­sion puts height­ened em­pha­sis on the in­ex­ora­bil­ity of fate — in par­tic­u­lar, the ways in which the steps taken to avoid prophetic doom are the very ac­tions that bring it about. The im­pla­ca­ble ma­chin­ery of des­tiny is Sossi’s cen­tral stag­ing con­cept (hence the ti­tle).

An­chor­ing a fine cast, charis­matic Joshua Wolf Cole­man ex­udes the good in­ten­tions of a benev­o­lent monarch; what his Oedi­pus lacks in orig­i­nal sin, though, he makes up in hubris.

Be­liev­ing him­self blessed by the gods in hav­ing lucked into the va­cant throne of Thebes, he pur­sues danger­ous truths de­spite warn­ings from queen mother Jo­casta (Dey Young) and the blind seer Tire­sias (Lorinne Vo­zoff) — even mak­ing a scape­goat of his brother-in-law, Creon (Martin Rayner), when he doesn’t like where the path leads.

In bear­ing wit­ness to the en­su­ing tragedy, a well-syn­chro­nized cho­rus ef­fec­tively treads the del­i­cate line be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism and lock­step herd men­tal­ity.

Sossi’s ahis­tor­i­cal stag­ing is an eye­ful, whim­si­cally mix­ing de­sign el­e­ments of an­cient civ­i­liza­tions with sci-fi gad­getry — the cen­ter­piece of Keith Mitchell’s set is a kind of re­volv­ing ge­o­desic igloo that tele­ports the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters into the ac­tion. An enor­mous sphere serv­ing as an in­te­rior pro­jec­tor screen pro­vides an in­ge­nious vis­ual ra­tio­nale for Oedi­pus’ so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of see­ing too much. As the nov­el­ist John Barth put it more re­cently, self-knowl­edge is al­ways bad news.

Enci Box

JOSHUA WOLF COLE­MAN, left, Brent Chris­tensen and Cary Thomp­son in “Oedi­pus Machina.”

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