Oedipus, Updated

March 19, 2011

There’s plenty of contemporary drama this season to satisfy a variety of audiences–the Classical Club’s production of Oedipus Rex adds some ancient drama to the options. The club members’ fresh translation preserved high style ancient Greek language while adding a more accessible contemporary feel. There were only a few moments throughout the play where the clash felt a bit awkward, causing confusion and uneasiness throughout the audience. Overall, the translation succeeded in being both understandable and relatable.

The play opens with Oedipus, Eli Kahn ’13, kneeling over Jocasta’s lifeless body (played by graduate student Emily Schurr), a strong directorial choice and a perfect introduction to the play.  The scene then shifts to a quaint picture of Oedipus’s home life, complete with adorable daughter Antigone, Rebecca Margolies ’13, playing by his desk.

Oedipus is faced with the task of ridding Thebes of its plague. Creon, Louis Evans ’13, returns from his trip to Delphi, reporting that Apollo, speaking through an oracle, has declared that late King Laius’s murderer is still in Thebes, and that the murderer must be killed or exiled in order for the plague to end. The dynamic between Kahn and Evans during this scene enacts well the power play between Oedipus and Creon. Evans’s levelheaded, rational composure as Creon was beautifully matched by his physical presence on the stage, and the confrontation between Oedipus and Creon showed how well the pair were cast, Oedipus’s power up against Creon’s imposing presence.

In fact, all of the actors deserve commendation for their choices on gestures and postures, which were both well-directed and well-executed, adding depth to their characters. The character of Tiresias, played by graduate student Ilker Oztop, stood out:  Oztop’s commitment to his feeble-bodied character and his desire to protect Oedipus from the truth of his sinful past was palpable. As the play continues and Oedipus is repeatedly put in the limelight for a crime he swears he could not have committed, Kahn’s acting stagnates slightly. Instead of expressing mostly outward rage, it would have been interesting for Kahn to explore Oedipus’s internal turmoil, too. However, that lack is likely not just Kahn’s fault.

The stage is set so that there are no changes between scenes, which works well in the space and prevents disruptive pauses but leaves little room for complicated blocking. The scenes didn’t necessarily call for complex blocking, and most of the time the set worked well for the purpose of the scenes, but by the end it was a bit tiresome to watch Oedipus give the majority of his lines center stage. Although this might have been a directorial choice  intended to emphasize the grandeur of the main character, Kahn’s acting was hampered slightly by the lack of different spaces from which to work. Still, it was great to see a theater group work in the under-utilized Cabot JCR without a hitch.

The technical aspects of the show were a definite highlight. The costumes were very appropriate and helped create an atmosphere of ancient regality,. Jocasta’s beautiful blue mermaid dress and champagne shawl was visually dominating whenever she was onstage. The stage makeup, including gray hair tinting, was also impeccable for all of the characters, lending an even greater air of wisdom to their words. The lighting sectioned the different areas of the stage effectively, and the sound design strongly emphasized the emotional charge of the scenes.

Oedipus Rex is not a simple moral tale, and Harvard’s 2011 production remained well faithful to its complexity and to its ancient character. The cast and crew put on a commendable performance of this tragedy, fusing ancient and modern themes to create an appealing and interesting version of this classic.

The Harvard Art Review Theatre Board

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