nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
August 14, 2013
Some of the greatest flaws inherent in our unblinking news cycle sit at the fore of Floundering Fathers’ world premiere of Christopher Lord Compton’s WREX. What is the line between reportage and speculation? Should there be a filter between the reporter and the reporting? Can there be? And, if so, how? Furthermore, if the news is such a constant cataract, how can we decipher, let alone report, what is truly important? Such contemporary quandries might seem surprising given that WREX is a pretty blatant adaptation of the story of Oedipus, but it’s just one of the many resonations in this clever adaptation of one of our species’ most well-known myths.
The city of Thebes is besieged by a horrible spate of rainstorms, but the diligent crew of radio station WREX is hard at work, informing the citizenry of developments, not just related to the weather but to celebrity marriages and the tensions arising between clashing political factions. Their on-air personalities for this shift are Eddy the Gimp, their star jockey and a Corinthian prince, and Creon the Current, his newly-minted nickname befitting his position as the news breaker. They’re aided by the mostly silent but never inactive Alex, their producer/intern, depending on how generous they’re feeling (and they happily lie to their unaware listeners that they have a whole team of interns on the chopping block should anything go awry). However, soon a prophecy comes through from old soothsayer/newspaper editor Tiresias, declaring that once the person responsible for the death of the Theban king 8 years ago is expelled from Thebes, the deadly weather will stop.
Already you can probably see that this script, which is written completely contemporarily (the so-called “chorus” is supplied by callers and commercial spots), relies on a classic sense of rule and divinity, and yet still manages to touch upon entirely modern anxieties. There are the aforementioned conflicts with our hyperactive news media. The rainstorms echo climate change. The violence between the monarchists and democratics is an easy parallel to the rabidity between liberals and conservatives—which itself becomes a lead-in to perhaps the other foremost theme: the place for faith in cultural conversation.
Eddy the Gimp is a staunch monarchist and vocal believer in divine right. His ardor is an adroit echo of the fanatical religiosity of many media personalities, who are more than happy to place agency for any number of potentially solvable societal woes at the feet of their own god. As the characters debate whether or not Tiresias’ solution for the rain is valid, I couldn’t help but think of things like Mike Huckabee, assigning blame for the Sandy Hook shootings to the lack of prayer in schools.
The ensemble is a fine one. Gavin Starr Kendall, as Eddy, makes for a thoroughly convincing shock jock, smoothly alternating between smug dismissals and bloviating tirades (although there are a handful of moments that are beautifully vulnerable). His chemistry with Jocasta, Queen of Thebes, is playful and alluring, and Renee Stork gives the queen an unflappable grace.
Director Niccolo Aeed deftly maneuvers his cast around an excellently evocative set, and, while I felt the pace could have been tightened in light of no radio station ever allowing so much dead air, the action rarely lags. Compton’s script is fluid and engaging and palpably intelligent—though it could certainly withstand some trimming (indeed, there’s an entire episode involving a visiting guest to the station that really doesn’t go anywhere). The minutiae of Greek mythology as-it-happens is expertly wrought—so expertly, though, I found myself wishing for a few more simplifications or signposts along the way (the distinction between Corinthian and Theban royalty goes by so quickly that, in all the talk of queens and mothers, for a while I thought they had completely telegraphed the Big Twist).
Also, to Compton’s credit, I’m still debating with myself about the ending, which ends exactly the way you think it would, yet on a completely different note than you’re expecting.
Is it a deliberate anticlimax or perhaps a missed dramatic opportunity? I’m not entirely sure—which ultimately convinces me that it is the former. Because at its heart, this has always been a story about the impossibility of definitive answers. If his parents had simply accepted Oedipus’ fate, would it ever have come true? There’s no way of knowing, and ultimately, those who trust only clinical science or mysticism alone become very much like the crew running WREX: relying on a fictive team of interns that simply can’t account for all the things needed to keep the operation running.