Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oedipus: you'll shoot your eye out!

Weisenheimer is somewhat averse to Greek tragedy. I can trace this aversion to the genre directly back to a particularly dreadful 1992 production of Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Antigone put on by Intiman Theatre. That afternoon may have been the longest month I ever spent in a theater.

Recent events have me considering giving Sophocles a second chance. Seattle Shakespeare Company did a kick-ass production of Electra back in February. Now Balagan Theatre has come along with its own adaptation of Oedipus, a company-written script conceived and created by Jake Groshong, Ryan Higgins, and Lenore Bensinger and directed by Groshong and Higgins.

The creators take their inspiration from Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. While it isn't exactly The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in terms of cramming 37 plays into one performance, there's considerable upside to boiling the Oedipus story down to 90 minutes with no intermission. I have to admit that, knowing the creators as I do (Weisenheimer is president of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased) I came in expecting something a bit more over the top. Instead they hit us with some straight-up theater.

Highlights were captivating performances by Ryan Fields in the title role and Patrick Bentley as Creon. The scene in which Fields as Oedipus beds his wife/mother Jocasta, played by Joanna Horowitz, was fascinating, touching, and tender, a great example of the company's ability to re-think some pretty challenging material.

If we have a criticism of the show it is that the women of Thebes--Tiresias, Antigone, and Ismene, played by the talented trio of Sharon Barto, Annie Jantzer, and Allison Strickland, respectively--don't have nearly so much to do as do the guys. Antigone spends years leading her dad, Oedipus, around after he's had his eyes plucked out. Does it suck to be Antigone? Yes. My Sweetie, the official scorer, keeps expressing an interest in meeting Sophocles' mother. I'm not sure I'm willing to burn an evening on her, but you can see her influence, through her son's handiwork, at Balagan through June 5.

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