Oedipus Loves You
nytheatre.com review by David Johnston
May 23, 2008
Experimentalism has become its own cliché. This thought occurred to me about halfway through Pan Pan Theatre's nervy, baffling, and disjointed Oedipus Loves You, currently running at P.S. 122. There are the ever-present video monitors, the punk rock score, and the arch, distant line readings while speaking into a stationary mike facing the audience. The trappings of experimental theatre have become as codified and set as any traditional book musical. It's all in how you handle these devices.
Oedipus Loves You has plenty of guts and energy. It starts with the Sphinx (Ned Dennehy, who doubles as the family counselor, Tiresias) bellowing a punk tune called "Crackerass," buck naked in front of the audience with genitals tucked. A baleful crew member in a "Greece" t-shirt is behind a Plexiglas wall, focusing images under a camera, which are then projected live on monitors behind the stage, kind of a post-modern puppet show. Oedipus and Jocasta are rolling around in bed upstage, projected onto another video monitor above the bed. It's a fun, juiced-up opening that gets the audience primed for the cultural blasphemy to follow.
And the story unfolds. Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx (who hurls the expected unprintable epithet at him) and then he speaks to Jocasta about the necessity of solving the plague inflicting Thebes, which she's against. ("It suits me. It suits my lifestyle. It makes sense of my inertia.") We meet the spiky, disgruntled Antigone, and Creon, the uncle who has inappropriate thoughts about his niece. But after the bang-up opening, Oedipus Loves You soon settles into the routine of another unhappy family unable to relate, and the music and postmodern digressions become distracting and enervating. Dad is simple, gentle, and disconnected. Mom is frosty, distant, and disconnected. The kid is...well, you get the idea.
The director, Gavin Quinn, does conjure up some striking tableaus. In the opening, while the Sphinx wails away, Antigone and Creon dance like drugged-out kids in framed-off squares upstage. In a mordantly funny scene at the end, Oedipus tries to barbeque with his eyes torn out, while Jocasta criticizes him with a noose around her neck. Their brief clipped exchanges—"You're blind." "You're dead."—nail black laughs. But ultimately, the show only scores when presenting striking images or the occasional profanity. When it comes to an examination of the family relations—or making us feel something other than wry amusement—it falls flat.
The cast is good and game and gives it their all. Aoife Duffin as Antigone is the picture of a modern teen, striving to shake off her family's bitterness and stake a claim at her own identity. Bush Moukarzel as Oedipus is oddly tender and childlike as the doomed eponymous hero. And best of all, Gina Moxley as Jocasta gives her own frosty spin to the lines, blankly staring at the abyss in front of her and her marriage. But the production does its work too well in breaking our connections to their emotional journeys with devices and arch commentary.