AISLE SAY Twin Cities

A New Version of the Sophocles Play

Written by Ellen McLaughlin
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Guthrie Theatre
725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis
January 21-February 13, 2005

Reviewed by Ellen Dworsky and Roxanne Sadovsky

There's not a lot to say about this show, at least coming from the mouth of a therapist. In fact, I'm still trying to find a point to McLaughlin's "new" adaptation; several times, I've squinted at the memory in search of something positive I may have overlooked, but I got nothing. Am I being too hard on McLaughlin? Perhaps. But how can anyone expect to pull off an age-old fable in the 21st century-the century of apathy? Admittedly, I was hopeful when I heard this was a modern adaptation. I had all kinds of ideas about modern day morals bumping against each other in the office, the holiday party, Lake Calhoun, etc. People today are just as slimy now as they were then, especially leaders. What I wonder is why these classics keep running? I mean, short of fancier sets, paid actors, and Sigmund Freud, the unchanged story is entertaining, but what does it have to offer us today? Like I said, a lot of leaders--

Elle: Oh, good God Rox.

A. It is not a fable. It's a Greek tragedy.

B. Take of the therapist hat once in awhile and try to view things from a little different angle.
C. You've been yammering on about apathy since the 20th century.

D. What did you expect from a modern adaptation? Oedipus, given up at birth because his mother and father, who belong to some sort of Jim Jones poison Kool-aid cult, have heard the word of their "god" (the Jim Jones-like figure) who says, "Cast out this evil child! Throw him in a dumpster." So the parents pay some poor sap to ditch the kid. While Poor Sap is standing at the dumpster, feeling guilty, along comes a homeless man. Poor Sap puts the baby in the shopping cart gives the homeless man (who is, of course, a schizophrenic, drunk, disabled vet) a couple bucks and runs away. In a moment of lucidity, Homeless Man decides to take the baby to his sister, who after tens of thousands of dollars in fertility treatments still has been unable to conceive... You get the idea. What's wrong with a classic? Why mess with a winning formula? It was updated enough for me-I especially like the interpretation of the Greek chorus.

Rox: Well, the plot was weak.

Elle: Oh, yeah. Everyday a king kills his father and shtoops his mother. Come on, Rox. This isn't going to fly. Everyone loves this play.

Rox: I enjoyed it. I'm not saying it wasn't entertaining. I only "wandered off" a few times, but I was into it, especially since we sat close enough to see the blood and sweat of the chorus.

Elle: The chorus didn't bleed--Oedipus did. That part was a little too dramatic, but what do I know? I've never poked my eyes out.

Rox: As I was saying, I like when actors are close enough to see, especially when they walk up and down the aisles or hatch from the floor, both Guthrie staples. And that cast! You know I love Steven Yoakam (Creon). Since "Blue/Orange", I'm iffy about Peter Macon (Oedipus) but he is extremely attractive, nu? And Joe Chvala ("movement") is on the artistic staff for God's sake! He was my tap dance teacher at the U. He probably helped Macon do all that leaping you liked so much! And that kid! Who was he? A prop? I have no idea what he was doing there--shadowing? Foreshadowing?--but the highlight for me was when he burst into song. Not a peep out of him before or after, but he meant it in that song. That was tender. But aside from that, there wasn't any suspense--obviously, since everyone knows the story.

Elle: Well, you would have been in suspense if I hadn't told you the story on the walk to the Guthrie.

Rox: Oh. And where is Thebes? Now, I mean?

Elle: Where Thebes once stood is now Luxor and Karnak in Egypt.

Rox: Well, we've all learned something today. Oh, one last thing: It's not like I don't recognize the whole "who am I? What have I done? Now what?" themes that Oedipus has to face as a consequence of his actions and living with a false identity, innocently, even. I get it about "I'm not who I think I am;" boy, do I ever! Don't I Elle? By the way, it's great to be back here with you.

Elle: It is!

Rox: Anyway, I liked it, I didn't love it. It was overdramatic, confusing, and didn't make me think. Then again, I felt the same way about "Finding Neverland," but no one seems to agree with me there either. In any case, it was worth it for several reasons: First, I had never seen it, but always figured I should. Second, the set was simple, which is unusual for the Guthrie-not a bad thing, mind you.

Elle: I was disappointed in the set. BORING. And what were all those chairs doing in the corner, all piled up? I don't think they ever did anything with them. Worse, I kept having flashbacks to "The Chairs". You know that wasn't a good experience.

Rox: I thought the icy surface of the stage, outlined by neon light were wonderfully effective against the black, sometimes smoldering, depth of the background. It was a stark, but welcome change. It looked like a gigantic air hockey field--you know those new flashy ones with all the neon action? Once in a while there is a set that I want to just jump on and be a part when I was a kid at know? Anyway, while I'm working this metaphor, the characters glided beautifully along, chorus included. Overall, it was good like candy. That's enough for me. Complimenting the dreamy set was no challenge for this cast.

Elle: There was no set, therefore, no challenge.

Rox: We'll just agree to disagree on the set.

Elle: Very mature of us.

Rox: Anyway, other than the bug-eyed Macon, whose talent has overstretched, Isabell Monk O'Connor (Jocosta) was especially striking as the warrior wife, whose chilling suicide happened so quickly, it returned that night in my sleep. I think she was alongside Tiresias (Sandra Shipley), the bearer of bad news, who I had no idea was actually a woman under all that freaky make-up and hair.

Elle: Then you were in a coma. I was not impressed with her. This is sort of like you thinking our mutual acquaintance, Cindy, had a speech impediment, when she's deaf, which was clear to me the first time she opened her mouth.

Rox: Um, yeah. Anyway, those gals gave me the shivers. Perhaps if I would have expected a B-Movie instead of a classic, I would have liked it better. The other thing that I liked was the music (at first I thought those huge pipes were part of the set somehow) but I did find it distracting. It was hard to watch the musicians and stay with the somber mood of the story.

Elle: Rox, I told you, they were the updated version of the Greek Chorus. What would Oedipus be without the chorus?

Rox: A better play?

Elle: I don't know, maybe you're right, Rox. Maybe I am cutting the play too much slack because it's a "classic." But one thing I do know is that we should read classic literature and see classic plays, without too much "updating." These days, we as a society barely share a common frame of reference in the arts--and that's no good, because when we talk about things, we're always making allusions to art and literature--both of which sometimes seem in their death throes in the age of sound bytes, MTV, ADD, and the general lack of literacy. So what happens when we make allusions and the people we're talking to don't share our frame of reference? A gap in communication. So if for no other reason, see the play and be culturally literate!

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