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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Curse of Oedipus
By Rich Sienko
The Antaeus Theatre Company gloriously celebrates Dionysus, the God of Theater, with the world premiere of The Curse of Oedipus, a contemporary retelling of the Oedipus plays. There is a lot of tragedy going on. Dionysus would be proud.
Playwright Kenneth Cavander, a Greek tragedian scholar, has woven together an Oedipus cycle, combining Oedipus The King, Oedipus At Colonus, and Antigone. He has taken some artistic license and created his own dramatic interpretations that keep the evening endlessly interesting. Though the material is dense, Mr. Cavander uses contemporary dialogue, making it easier to follow the complex story lines.
Can fate be changed? Gods Apollo and Dionysus spar among themselves to prove the answer using us mere mortals as pawns. Apollo has placed a curse upon Thebes with the birth of Oedipus. Can it be undone?
A curse is a living thing. It spins a web out of your actions so that each one of these actions, even the least of them, serves only to wrap you tighter in the web and the name of the web is death by self illusion. That's where we begin in the spectacle that is The Curse of Oedipus. As the play unfolds, it deals with fate, tyranny, ego, devotion, self delusion, and life and death.
Director Casey Stangl (Antaeus' The Liar and A.C.T.'s Venus In Fur) creates an instant moody atmosphere. She uses the intimate black box space to full effect creating stage pictures that focus on the main action among the large cast. The minimalist style shows off Strangl's strong storytelling ability. She keeps the action moving. Wisely, there is a foley-like percussionist who adds to the mood, energy, and effects.
This is truly an ensemble piece. Depending which night you attend, the actors will vary as it's double cast. They rely on each other's talent and technique to bring together this Herculean effort and all perform with precision.
Standouts at my performance include the center of the show, Oedipus himself, Ramon de Ocampo. This young actor performs beyond his years, instantaneously transforming from young naivete to the wisdom of the aged in front of our eyes. The passion he brings shows the complex man that Oedipus is and why the Greeks wrote so much about him. We surely will be seeing a lot more of Mr. de Ocampo in the future.
Oedipus' testosterone driven sons, Polyneices & Eteocles, are played with perfect machismo by Brian Tichnell and Patrick Wenk-Wolff. They shine in a dangerous, nicely choreographed, sword fight. Joanna Strapp, as Antigone, has some very fine tender moments yet showing strength. The only weak link is Rhonda Aldrich, as Jocasta who sounds a bit too contemporary at times— more soap opera than royal.
Attention to detail helps make this production first-rate. The lighting by Francois Pierre Couture adds clarity to the action, delineating between the chorus and the players. The detailed period costumes by E. B. Brooks add color and history. There is clear attention to sound design. Having a professional sound designer like Jeff Thomas Gardner for this small a space adds to the success of the production tremendously. Many companies are unaware of the size and effect of the space. Kudos to Antaeus for understanding that details matter.
Was it inevitable that The Curse of Oedipus is this good or did Dionysus inspire the thespians of Antaeus? At close to three hours, a bit could be trimmed. But don't let the thought of this much Greek Tragedy deter you from missing this treat from the Theater Gods.