All the Children Are Insane

STRATFORD, ON—There is a clean, bare, and muted look to Daniel Brooks’ modernized staging of Oedipus Rex.  The cast dresses in simple, businesslike attire.  Oedipus (Gord Rand) himself often sits at a simple metal desk.  The stage is flanked by unoccupied watchtowers and floodlights.  The chorus, rather than speaking their lines in unison, take turns at the microphone, offering smoky, jazz-club readings.

Into this atmosphere Mr. Brooks drops discordant images like smoke bombs: Tiresias (Nigel Bennett) appears dressed in teal high-heels, black nail polish, and John Lennon sunglasses—apparently he has fared well since his punishment from Hera.  And Oedipus, following his eye-gouging, bursts through a plastic sheet fully nude, like Zbigniew Cybulski in Ashes and Diamonds.

All of this suggests that Mr. Brooks is swelling with ideas but limp on a guiding vision.  His production is surprisingly dull, marked by moodiness and bouts of screaming but little else.  The gratuitousness of the final moments is especially notable, since Oedipus’ attack on his own eyes serves as symbolic castration, something that becomes markedly less effective when his literal penis remains in plain view.  The cast mostly flounders, with Mr. Rand recalling some weaker Othellos—all angst and no depth—though at least Mr. Bennett appears to be having fun.

Sophocles can be tough, and it seems to me that the best approach is to emphasize tone, to focus on evoking the feelings generated by myth.  This Oedipus evokes virtually no feelings, clearly the result of over-conceptualization.

Oedipus Rex runs through September 18th at the Tom Patterson Theatre.  111 Lakeside Drive  Stratford, ON.  1 hour 45 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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