Review: Hypocrite Theatre’s ‘Oedipus’

  

 

Stacey Stoltz in 'Oedipus'. Picture taken by Paul Metreyeon

 

Oedipus
Adapted and Directed by Sean Graney
The Hypocrites, May 31-July 12 (buy tickets here )

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

What is not laudable about this production of Oedipus? Sean Graney’s rockin’ adaptation harkens back to the first productions of Hair, when our country badly needed to let the sunshine in. We need, these days, that same purifying light. Rare is the theatrical event that can stand on its own, in terms of theme, artistry, and invention, yet also address, in profound and universal ways, the sickness of our nation.

The Hypocrites do Oedipus as rock opera! Yet it is a rock opera that preserves the poetry and tragedy of Classical tradition, without slipping into the maudlin solipsism to which rock opera is prone. Inspired by Ted Hughes’ translation of Seneca’s Oedipus, Sean Graney maintains a healthy devotion to the history and beauty of this ancient myth, while still managing to kick out the props and go for something fresh–something both the kids and the old Classical Lit geeks can thoroughly enjoy.

Steve Wilson and Stacy Stoltz in 'Oedipus".  Picture taken by Paul Metreyeon.If the set were not enough to create a carnival mood, with it bright colors, its McDonald’s style plastic picnic tables, its totem pole booth ringed with lights, or its pink painted filing cabinets growing a cactus out of one open drawer, then the actors tossing around balloons between themselves and the audience engender a carnival atmosphere. The set design expresses both the horror and mock horror aspects of the production, which one discovers upon noticing that the blue plastic sheets, enclosing the set from floor to ceiling, are dripped with thick red paint, simultaneously suggesting both blood and fake blood.

This strikes a balanced interrogation between the plastic and the real. Stacy Holtz, as the Blind Seer, may sing about the emptiness of life and, therefore, the emptiness of losing life; but her final rock solo, as Jocasta, brings the emptying loss of life to its raw, devastating conclusion. Thank God–or the gods–and/or the terrific cast—that, here, we have a show that uses irony and distancing to intense theatrical purpose, not as a faddish ploy. What is done to Oedipus (Steve Wilson), by fate or by his people, is truly horrifying. Yet humor is played for all it’s worth—whether between Creon (Halena Kays) and Oedipus jockeying for position or the gratuitous tongue-wrestling between Oedipus and Jocasta.

One wonders whether can be no “over the top” for this production precisely because it takes place “under the big top”. Yet, what grounds and sustains it is its unmistakable, unyielding commitment to poetry. If anything, Sean Graney’s careful preservation of poetic language consecrates this theatrical space, as surely as it consecrates Oedipus’s struggle for the truth that will demand his ultimate sacrifice. While Graney has never had a classical education, his work relies on self-education, a thorough love for the tragedians, and copious research, both prior to writing as well as all the way through development.

Steve Wilson and Halena Kays in The Hypocrites' 'Oedipus'.  Picture taken by Paul Metreyeon.“Sean and Stacey and I have worked together close to 10 years now,” says Halena Kays. “We all worked together for 4.48 Psychosis. Sean has very definite ideas. He’s really clear about the world the play is going to be in. We would get the script filled with clues about how the tone would change, things like, ‘they’re underwater,’–things he knows for himself and his instincts. I find that the best way to work with Sean is to make really strong choices. The actors’ contributions come through in the minutiae—the clarity, the magic and the fun.”

The delicate minutiae wield the greatest political punch. The first moment Oedipus appears on stage, a surgical mask covers his face—recalling all our panics over H1N1, SARS, and AIDS. But diseases that mark a country “rotting from within” do not end with viruses. Oedipus may believe a little too completely in his own legend, as self-made man and conqueror of the Hell Bitch. Steve Wilson brings realistic pathos to a man who will nobly prevail past the point where others would rationalize their ideals away. Such an uncompromising nature will lead him to be self-sacrificing. It will also lead him to commit torture. For all who care about the power of theater to reveal our political, psychological, and spiritual selves, hie thee to this show for shame. Or live thee in the shame of our nation’s present state without it.

Rating: ««««

Venue:  The Building Stage
Location: 412 N. Carpenter Street, 2 blocks south of Grand, Blue line to Grand or via the #8 or #56 bus.  (Click on map below for larger view.)

=============================================================

The Hypocrites’ Mission Statement:

WE MAKE THEATER

Our Mission.

Our mission – which is ever-evolving to adapt to the growth of our organization – is to make a Theater of Honesty. We define a Theater of Honesty chiefly through two elements of our work: performance and presentation.

In performance, our actors shall employ a genuine emotional vulnerability, rather than manufacturing a disconnected, intellectual version of emotion. In presentation, we shall acknowledge our presence in a theater and embrace high theatricality. Through this balance of an unyielding emotional honesty and accepting a concept of “play,” we seek to strengthen the connection between artist and audience, enriching our audience’s imaginative experience. Ultimately, we aim, perhaps somewhat naively, to spread understanding within society, thereby minimizing cruelty.

~

We will make theater.
We will inspire, not shock.
We will respect the audience.
We will create a unique theater experience for every production.
We will push our own limits in order to push the limits of theater.
We will honor the playwright’s intentions.
We will hold interest in entertainment and art.
We will change these rules.

2 Responses

  1. cool!

  2. […] -  New Leaf Theatre   Sean Graney:  – Oedipus  – The Hypocrites (review ★★★★) Frances Limoncelli:  Busman’s Honeymoon – Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: