nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
February 23, 2010
Blind, Craig Wright's contemporary retelling of the Oedipus myth, is a powerhouse bare bones production that at once digs deeper into the original story and surprises with bold new discoveries. The language is taut, the direction is gripping, and the performances leave everything out on the stage. This production ranks as the most accessible and entertaining Oedipus adaptation I have either read or seen performed.
While several playwrights in ancient Greece wrote versions of the Oedipus myth, the most well-known is the trilogy by Sophocles. A brief synopsis of Oedipus the King, on which Blind is based: There is a plague gripping the kingdom of Thebes and a prophet tells King Oedipus that he is the cause. His wife Jocasta tries to convince him otherwise, however he insists on digging into his past for answers. In the end they discover that he and Jocasta, despite their best efforts, have unknowingly fulfilled another prophecy from decades before—Oedipus has married his mother and killed his father. Jocasta is unable to take it and hangs herself. Oedipus removes the broaches from her dress and stabs out his eyes.
Sophocles recounts this story primarily through a Greek chorus and offstage action that often struggle to engage a modern audience. Contemporary retellings tend to eliminate the chorus, modernize the language, and bring the action onstage, with varying degrees of success. Typically it proves difficult to capture the epic proportions of the myth while keeping it simple.
Craig Wright brilliantly chooses to focus only on the moment of discovery as the premise of his play. This section of the story often gets only minutes of stage time, so it proves fertile ground for exploration. Wright takes us to a claustrophobic room and portrays their marriage so intimately that for much of the play it resembles a high-octane domestic drama. Oedipus and Jocasta are suddenly identifiable not as the doomed protagonists of a well-known myth, but a couple struggling to connect after years of suspicion, secret agendas, ebbing passion, growing co-dependence, and heartache. The centuries-old trajectory becomes unknown. The rewritten climax is an absolute shock and yet remains fully supported by the source material. I can't recommend his vision enough.
Everything within this world happens for a reason, every action has a visible effect on the inhabitants. Director Lucie Tiberghien weaves the intricate moments and the explosive with equal precision and draws extraordinary performances from her cast.
Seth Numrich returns to Rattlestick after a memorable performance as the angst-ridden teenage protagonist in last season's Slipping. In the role of Oedipus he once again proves to be one of indie theater's most dynamic performers. He epitomizes Wright's dual description of Oedipus, at times larger than life, at others "diminished." He is a boy that happened upon the throne, enjoyed the spoils for a while, but never once believed he deserved any of it.
Veanne Cox plays the proud, powerful Jocasta, the true leader of Thebes. Her cold composure makes it difficult to empathize at first, however when the artifice breaks—not for the reason you'd expect—the journey proves more than worthwhile. In the final role, Danielle Slavick delivers some welcome comic touches. As the Maid she provides our only sense of the world outside their royal bedroom—suffering but hopeful, aware of the truth but choosing to ignore it.
The production design creates a cohesive mix of heightened reality and contemporary culture. I laughed out loud at the introduction of the king's BlackBerry, which he uses to text message Creon dealing with the plague. Scenic design by Takeshi Kata and lighting design by Matt Richards evoke a high-class bordello, completely decked out in reds and blacks with a chandelier for good measure. Costume design by Anne Kennedy is especially wonderful for Jocasta.
One cautionary note: there's violence and sexuality that may unnerve some theatre-goers. Nevertheless, this production is well-worth catching.