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Oedipus Rex leaves nothing in the shadows

Montaigne, quoting from ancient sources, describes a painting of the sacrifice of Iphigenia. In it, the victim’s father is shown with a veil hanging over his face, as if to say, Montaigne suggests, that no expression could convey what Agamemnon is feeling as he watches his innocent girl go to slaughter. Even though that seems like such a dodge to us now, every play that confronts the limits of human suffering, as Court Theatre’s Oedipus does, needs to find its version of Agamemnon’s veil. These poor actors cannot be expected to have a face they can make that communicates, with the appropriate gravity, “Oh God, my husband is my son.”

This production, directed by Charles Newell and translated from Sophocles by the late former Court artistic director Nicholas Rudall, doesn’t believe in veils, and neither do its performers. The entire cast is onstage almost the whole time, gyrating in tandem across John Culbert’s stark white set under dazzling and sometimes blinding light design by Keith Parham. The play conceals nothing, wants all of its pain and decimation to happen publicly. Kelvin Roston Jr., who plays Oedipus, seems especially bent on making his audience a party to the character’s ordeal. But what is Jocasta (Kate Collins), writhing under hot direct light, supposed to do with her face, her voice, or her limbs, to get across what the words say she is experiencing? There is no such gesture.

This show inaugurates Court’s Oedipus Trilogy, with The Gospel at Colonus (May 2020) and Antigone (2020/2021) to follow.  v

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