By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
|Photo by Ed Kreiger|
The story is a straightforward horror fable: Thebes has been gripped by a mysterious plague; its citizens pray to Apollo for relief while King Oedipus (Robertson Dean) has sent his brother-in-law, Creon (Rod Menzies), to consult the oracle at Delphi. A big mistake, for Oedipus now learns the murder of his predecessor, Laius, is the cause for Thebes' ruin. He sets out to bring Laius' assassin to book, only to discover evidence that first he himself may have been that murderer and, soon after, that Laius was his true father and his own wife, Queen Jocasta (Lorna Raver), his mother. Oedipus and Jocasta's predicament merely fulfills a half-forgotten prophecy, although the gods have generously permitted them the freedom to choose how they will respond to it.
NOT A GESTURE IS WASTED IN MANKE'S COMPACT, muscular Oedipus, drawn from Kenneth Cavandar's translation, which was first put to use by the Oxford Experimental Theater Company. While Cavandar's script appears to favor British accents, these actors make the language their own, none more so than Dean, who, as the accumulating facts inexorably indict him, transforms from proud mortal to self-mutilated penitent. Here, he is ably complemented by Raver, who absorbs the unfolding truth on a different, though no less tragic, level. (It is to this production's credit that Raver appears as someone who could be Oedipus' mother, rather than -- as is often the case -- a same-age actress with a Lily Munster streak of white running through her hair.) Rounding out the strategy is Beverley Thies' intricate lighting plot, which constantly emphasizes the characters' moods.
The show is at once historical and allegoric, bloody and austere; sure, we figure, the peasants' off-the-rack rags reflect their low state of consciousness, as well as their pious conformity and lack of ambition. On the other hand, maybe this is how Mediterranean peasantry actually looked in those Periclean years. Throughout the evening, Oedipus' inner turmoil is echoed by these and other characters, who, while they are all on the same side, nevertheless seem to totter on the verge of some terrible civic warfare. Manke marshals his ensemble into tightly orchestrated blocks on Michael C. Smith's raked, disc-shaped stage, which resembles either a giant shield or an Aztec calendar. The chorus, which constitutes a kind of Theban middle class, is dressed in long tunics and stands defensively in military wedge formations as its members chant their fears and prayers.
Form always serves function here; the costuming and lighting may be conspicuous, but only work to reinforce an atmosphere arthritic with dread, and not to replace the play's ideas. In other words, there is nothing decisively "updated" in this version; no one walks on with a boom box, Creon does not speak into a cell phone -- in fact, the production is virtually propless. And yet it remains perfectly accessible and immediate, a staging that forcefully reaches out to generations of TV watchers without compromising the integrity of the story. Watching this Oedipus, we cannot escape the crushing weight of its hero's crimes, however inadvertently committed, and share the horrible awe that must have crept upon the audiences of antiquity as it dawned upon them just where Oedipus' investigation was leading.
THINGS ARE A LITTLE DIFFERENT WITH RICHARD Krevolin's King Levine, presented at the Odyssey Theater as a visiting production. From Forbidden Planetto West Side Story, Shakespeare's plays continue to appear in the bloodstream of modern pop culture in all sorts of guises and camouflage. Krevolin's comedy version focuses on Moishe Levine (Sammy Shore), a self-styled bialy king who, in his twilight years, gloats about how his bagel-like product can be found in the freezer sections of even the WASPiest regions of America. After an ill-advised attempt to cop a feel with a shiksa employee lands him in legal hot water, Levine's Wharton-educated daughter, Rikki, comes up with a plan to circumvent a sexual-harassment suit by checking the king into a Jewish old-age home, much to his displeasure. Things turn nasty when the steely Rikki conspires to keep him there for good, while she takes over his company. Neither she nor another daughter, the New Age dilettante Bobbi, has any desire to see him back at his desk, and so King Levine must turn for help to his least favorite child, the angry lesbian-feminist Jami.
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