Review by Georgia Rowe for Contra Costa Times
Posted on Fri, Mar. 7, 2003
A focused production of Greek classic
By Georgia Rowe
Greek tragedy may be a staple in college drama classes, but today's commercial theaters tend to shy away from it, reasoning that many of the Greek plays are too long, too archaic and too grim for audiences raised on television to endure.
Some companies think the solution is camping it up, staging the tragedies as musicals or imposing some outlandish concept in the hope of making the stories more "accessible."
It's a brave company, then, that wades into Greek territory with the intent of staging a straightforward tragedy. But that's exactly what the Shotgun Players has done with its potent new production of Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex."
Under artistic director Patrick Dooley, the Berkeley-based company has successfully mounted several Greek plays in recent seasons -- including a terrific "Medea" last year. The new production of "Oedipus Rex," which opened Saturday at the 8th Street Studio Theatre, follows suit.
This "Oedipus" makes one concession to contemporary audiences (and contemporary backsides): Using a new translation by Nicholas Rudall, the company presents the play in a compact 85 minutes, without intermission.
This approach works remarkably well. It allows the ensemble cast -- some playing multiple roles -- to tell the story in an authentic way. And it allows the audience to experience the impact of the play without the mind-numbing fatigue that sets in midway through many longer productions.
Other than that, this is the same "Oedipus" we all know and love: a blood-and-thunder story of a king laid low by murder, incest and an ancient curse.
Dooley stages the action in the round, with the actors making entrances and exits from multiple points around the intimate playing space. The design elements are simple and effective. Scott Hove's set consists of a few hanging panels representing the city of Thebes and an arched entryway into its inner sanctum. Valera Coble's costumes indicate the characters' stations in life and functions within the play, and Robert Ted Anderson's lighting draws our attention to the action.
The well-rehearsed cast gives focused, articulate performances. Clive Worsley is an assured presence as Oedipus, gradually registering the horror of the king's realization that he is the perpetrator of the evil he seeks to destroy. Bella Warda makes a sympathetic Queen Jocasta, and Beth Donohue Templeton is an emphatic Chorus Leader.
Richard Louis James does an eloquent double turn as the blind prophet Teiresias and an ancient Shepherd, and Roham Shaikhani alternates as the scornful Creon and an obsequious First Messenger. Casey Jones Bastiaans' gentle, melodic voice is an asset throughout in her roles as the Priestess, the Second Messenger and a member of the Chorus.
Writer Rudall, the founder and former artistic director of Chicago's Court Theatre, sets Sophocles' original text in spare language, and Dooley's direction gives the text a powerful showcase. Moving toward its inexorable conclusion, this "Oedipus Rex" is aptly intense -- faithful, in other words, to Sophocles' original.
Review can be seen online here: