Review by Chad Jones for Oakland Tribune
Review posted Monday, March 10, 2003
Whoa, mama! Shotgun's `Oedipus' could use more blast
Settling in to a Shotgun Players production of "Oedipus Rex,'' certain expectations come to the fore.
Dealing with all things classical in past productions such as "Medea,'' "There Will Be No Trojan War,'' "Iphigenia in Aulis'' and "Troilus and Cressida,'' the Shotgun team has done some powerful work.
That this "Oedipus'' is merely competent and engaging comes as a disappointment, only because the Shotgun fire is burning with less intensity than usual.
Director Patrick Dooley, the founder and artistic director of Shotgun, has assembled a solid cast and a simple, effectively staged production.
And then there's the play itself (in a fresh, accessible translation by Nicholas Rudall), one of the juiciest plots ever plotted involving destiny, patricide, hubris, incest and gloomy fatalism. Old Sophocles had a good day at the marble word processor when he turned a well-known story into a groovy Greco-soap opera for the ages.
So why does this "Oedipus'' feel more like a polite journey through the classics than an impassioned exploration of Greek tragedy?
There's a sense of hesitation and uncertainty that hovers over this production, and it affects everyone's work. A battle between the classical and the contemporary hobbles the overall tone, and that makes the actors waver somewhat uncomfortably between conversational and tragically grand.
Last year's fantastic "Medea'' was full-throttle melodrama, but this "Oedipus'' is aiming for something more intimate.
Set designer Scott Hove creates a triangular performance space in Berkeley's Eighth Street Studio Theatre that places audience members on all three sides of the floor-level stage.
Audience members are addressed as citizens of Thebes throughout the play, so it's appropriate that we feel like part of a tight little community in full view of one another.
But this doesn't give the actors much space to move around, and director Dooley has taken a too-casual approach to placing his players in positions of power. Even in this small space, actors tend to wander.
Casey Jones Bastiaans as a priestess sets the scene for us. Thebes is in the midst of a menacing plague. Babies are stillborn, cattle are dying and corpses of plague victims litter the streets.
Word comes from the oracle at Delphi that the plague stems from a certain pollution in Thebes that must be cleansed. The decades-old murder of King Laius must be avenged and his murderer brought to justice.
King Oedipus (Clive Worsley) sets out to right this wrong but soon discovers his life is nothing but a series of wrongs. It turns out that humans attempting to subvert the horrible prophecies of the gods have only done their parts in fulfilling those prophecies.
Poor Oedipus finds he has done everything the merciless gods said he would do. Without knowing it, he killed his father and married his mother. Soon enough he will be blind by his own hand and mired in the kind of misery that seems to reverberate through the centuries.
Worsley makes for a very human Oedipus, and that works for a while. But when the heavy stuff starts to come down, the rage and horror never reach a suitably tragic level.
Among other cast members, Bella Warda is a dignified Queen Jocasta. Richard Louis James as the prophet Tiresias and later as an old shepherd has an electric presence, and Beth Donohue Templeton is an eloquent chorus leader. As Creon, Roham Shaikhani lacks definition, but as a messenger from Cornith, he makes a stronger impression.
Adding to the sense of uncertainty here is the live musical score by flutist and percussionist Tim Barsky. At times incredibly effective, Barsky's music creates echoes that are both classic and quite hip. Occasionally the music, especially the drumming, is more intense than the performances, and very occasionally, the music is a distraction.
Sophocles tells us that "the past weighs heavy on the present,'' but in Shotgun Players' "Oedipus Rex,'' that weight just isn't heavy enough.
You can e-mail Chad Jones at email@example.com or call (925) 416-4853.
Review can be seen online in the theatre listings here: