The Ballad of Eddie and Jo
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 14, 2006
The Ballad of Eddie and Jo takes the classic story of Oedipus and transplants it to an American city, circa right now. Oedipus is now Eddie, a young man who leaves the home of his adopted parents when he begins to worry that he might actually do violence to his father, with whom he doesn't get along. He arrives in another city, where he gets into a fight with a local low-level gangster named Larry, whom he inadvertently kills. Larry's widow, Jo, falls in love with Eddie, and soon Eddie's willingness to work hard and fight for what he believes in transforms him into something of a civic celebrity. Eddie and Jo have two children, and everything looks rosy...until Larry's henchman, Sam, turns up with some surprising news.
You know the rest: Jo realizes that Eddie is her long lost son, the one she gave up for adoption years ago. Eddie learns the truth, too, and as their children are dragged away by the local authorities, he blinds himself and hits the road, leading the life of a lonely wanderer for the rest of his days.
Playwright David Sard does a generally persuasive job grafting the ancient legend onto his contemporary play; what he doesn't do is make clear why he wants to do so. What mythic themes is he trying to convey to his audience? What makes his version, with modern people writ larger-than-life and often straining credulity (do people really pluck out their own eyes nowadays?), more useful or accessible than the original? Sard doesn't really answer these questions, which are pretty fundamental, and as a result his Ballad doesn't have much of a raison d'etre apart from being a modestly interesting exercise in adaptation.
There is one place, though, where Sard offers the audience something to think about, and that's his choice about how to make Eddie a "hero." The Greeks required men to do great labors or fight great battles to earn that appellation; I love that Sard believes that simply following the dictates of one's own conscious and working hard to make the world even just a little bit better than you found it is all that qualifies a man for heroic status today. What a terrific and noble perspective! Sard uses Eddie's journey toward heroism to make some obviously deeply-felt points about economic inequities in America's urban areas, specifically the neglect of poorer areas by the businesses, government leaders, and wealthier citizens who exploit and then ignore them. This section of the play is when it really bursts to life, invigorated by ideas that clearly mean something important to the author.
Director Lorca Peress has staged The Ballad of Eddie and Jo with intelligence and sensitivity, keeping the pacing brisk and the suspense ratcheted as high as possible for a story whose outcome we (mostly) already know. The cast includes a young actor named Angelo Rosso who gives an exciting portrayal of the earnest and passionate Eddie; Jerry Rago, who is compelling as Sam and other characters; nonagenarian actress Anita Velez Mitchell, who brings real dignity to her roles; and Ana Mercedes Torres (Jo), Stephen Innocenzi (Larry and others), Michael Citriniti (Older Eddie), and Joyce Griffen (various roles).