Written by Sophocles
Adapted & Directed by Sean Graney
Produced by the-hypocrites
At The Building Stage
Highly Stylized Oedipus has a Natural Feel
No matter what one does, the appeal of Greek tragedy in contemporary theatre is rather narrow. The-hypocrites’ current production of Oedipus, pared down to a 50-minute one-act and directed by whiz-kid artistic director Sean Graney, is no exception…though it is exceptional. Graney and his ensemble have employed what they refer to as a promenade style, in which the audience is free to move about the set as the actors move among them. This unusual staging was used earlier this season by the talented young director in his acclaimed production of Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II” at Chicago Shakespeare. That show put the audience up close and personal with some really violent stuff. In the current version of Oedipus, the audience is mostly spared the violence as it fulfills the function of chorus in the Greek tradition. The actors move in and out through the center of the open room via the highly effective use of a set of colorful wooden benche in the audience’s laps, so to speak. If the idea of this sort of unconventional presentation piques your curiosity, this Oedipus is most definitely for you.
There are so many versions of the Oedipus story that I must confess that I am always a bit confused as I head off to a show based on the myth. This one is adapted from Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” – in case you want to refresh your memory before you set out – but no in-depth understanding of the original is essential to get this show. In fact, what Graney and his talented ensemble – and I include both cast and crew in this designation – have accomplished is delivering the story in a way that is not only accessible, but natural. The ancient Greeks believed that their gods and other mythic characters walked among them. Here we see, and occasionally touch, a King Oedipus who is very real and very human. He is concerned for the suffering of his people, trying to help them, without realizing that he himself is their curse, and he is plagued by fate…as are we all in this setting. I suppose that it is impossible to say with certainty what the audience experience would have been in ancient Greece, but I am pretty certain that it was not the stilted, clinical look that is the hallmark of so many tragic productions of their theatrical classics. For me, the experience of the-hypocrites’ Oedipus feels like what I imagine the experience of ancient theatergoers to have been. In other words, it is very entertaining.
And it is not just the concept that carries this show. The young cast (Halena Kays, Stacy Stoltz and Steve Wilson) deliver credible, if at times uneven, performances and there is some great original music. Graney wrote the Goth-like lyrics for Kevin O’Donnell’s depressive dissonant score. Marilyn Manson gone crooner is the best description I can give you. It’s not pretty, but it is very good. And Courtney O’Neill’s set is a knockout. Beyond the benches and fast-food patio furniture, she uses a giant globe of collected non-biodegradable trash to mirror-ball effect on the crooner stage and even throws in a winged port-a-potty as the royal chambers. The connection between the wretchedly ill people of Thebes and our own decaying society is present, but not heavy handed. I don’t think that any statement, beyond statement of fact, is intended; and the purpose is merely that of further increasing the connection of the audience to the show. In the category of avant-garde, experimental productions Oedipus is probably the city’s hottest ticket at the moment. It is a frivolous interpretation of the classics that should delight serious theatergoers and curious novices alike.
At The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter St., Chicago, IL, www.the-hypocrites.com or 773-9897352, tickets$20-$25, Thur-Sat at 8:00 p.m.,Sun at 3:00 pm, running time is approximately 50 minutes with no intermission.