By Wendy Carson
First, let me say that Greek mythology is my forte and “Oedipus Rex” is a favorite of the tragedies, so I had very high hopes for this production. That said, David Daniel’s recent adaptation of Sophocles’ script, called simply “Oedipus,” exceeded anything I could have imagined.
This timeless drama, superbly directed by Indiana Repertory Theatre playwright-in-residence James Still, is on the IRT mainstage through March 18.
The play begins near the end of the legend and slowly recounts the events that will lead to its tragic conclusion. Oedipus has been doomed to kill his father and marry his mother. Fearing this prophesy, he flees his kingdom for neighboring Thebes, which he saves by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. He becomes King, and the land prospers for many years under his reign.
However, as we come to the start of the play the land is again struggling. Oedipus and his Queen, Jocasta, send her brother, Creon, to the Oracle to tell them the will of the Gods to end their plague. From there, much drama ensues.
Scenic designer Carey Wong gives us a barren stage with the brown hues bearing out the dusty death throes Thebes is suffering. Costume designer Sara Ryung Clement opts for flowing garments that hearken to a desert lifestyle showing what the land has become. The subtle ombre tones highlight their downtrodden plight while also touching on some of the character’s roles. I particularly liked her take on Creon’s garb, showing him as a statesman with an altered modern dress shirt but still a man of leisure with the rest of the ensemble.
Lindsay Jones (sound design) and Mariel Greenlee (movement) choreograph our characters’ actions to help translate the stylizations of the ancient time as well as the religious devotions of the ancient Greeks. Utilizing only percussion instruments, played by Chorus member Jed Feder, the soundscape is both lovely and demanding as the narrative drives it to be.
As for the cast, every performance was sheer perfection. Highlights for me were: Ryan Artzberger’s turn as the Corinthian perfectly brings a much needed touch of light humor to an otherwise grim story. Lisa Wolpe as Tiresias the seer highlights Oedipus’s fatal flaws of hubris and obliviousness. Trieu Tran’s Creon artfully walks the fine line between loving relative, potential suspect, and distant observer. All the rest – Olivia D. Dawson, Jan Lucas, Sola Thompson, and Mary Beth Fisher as Jocasta – beautifully flexed their acting muscles to the height of their skills.
Regarding David Alan Anderson’s role as Oedipus, a man of good heart but doomed by fate and pride, it is so good to see him commanding the stage again. I have been a fan of his acting talents since we first saw him around 20 years ago. My delight in his name being a part of this production was enormous. I am thrilled to say that he brought forth what is his greatest performance that I have ever witnessed. He flawlessly inhabited the character, sparking every emotional note such that he drew the audience into the story as witnesses, not merely observers.
I spoke with some people afterwards; they were all quite moved by this production. Even those who had no prior knowledge of the story felt later that they had known it all their life. This is what great theater is about, and I am proud to have witnessed such a thing of beauty as is being given to us here.
To attend “Oedipus” at the IRT, 140 W. Washington in the heart of Downtown Indianapolis, find tickets and information at irtlive.com.