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A CurtainUp Review
Oedpius El Rey"

By committing to a wider circle of inclusion, we reaffirm the theater's ability to be our great equalizer. We believe that, in the theater, we can fully embrace the beautiful kaleidoscope of our diverse and glorious city..
— Jacob G. Padron, Founder and Artistic Director, The Sol Project —
Oedpius El Rey
The Cast (Photo: Joan Marcus)
You can count on the Public Theater to bring us new works that are provocative and daring. Their latest offering, Luis Alfaro's Oedipus El Rey, in collaboration with The Sol Project, is a new take on Sophocles' Oedipus Rex that views the tragedy through the lens of Oedipus and Jocasta's cursed relationship.

While this adaptation hews broadly to Sophocles' work, the original setting has changed from ancient Athens to South Central Los Angeles. Some characters have been invented or omitted, and new twists added to the plot. That said, it still raises the same eternal questions that first fascinated the Greeks in Sophocles' day: What is fate? Can a person shape his own destiny? Or is a person's appointed end determined before he inhales his first breath?

The lights go up on an a stage that is bare of props except for simulated prison doors that evoke a cell block at the California State Prison in Delano. Six male performers enter the space and slip into the personas of inmates in a line-up —,a modern-day Chorus intent on penetrating the particulars of the Oedipus story. A recording of the popular 60's song, "I'm Your Puppet," wafts over the stage as each "Coro," offers his reflection on the protagonist.

As this chorus's voices fade out, we meet Oedipus himself. He's a young Latino inmate who's spent most of his life behind bars. He tells us how he picked pockets, sold pot, and after robbing a Costco on his 17th birthday was sent to the "Big House." His blind (foster) father Tiresias joined him in prison after his own arrest for robbing a nine-eleven store. This monk-like man, who saved Oedipus as a baby from Laius' (Oedipus' real father) murder plot, educated Oedipus in the prison library and introduced him to classics like Don Quixote.

There's no need to retell the whole Oedipus story here. But the Sol Project's version is distinguished by its raw and earthy feel.

We follow Oedipus through his prison days, his release and beyond. His story takes another dark turn when he drives his '84 Honda Civic down a one-lane highway and encounters another driver who insists on being "King-of-the-Road." In a fit of temper, Oedipus unwittingly kills the arrogant driver at the road side. He flees, without realizing that the dead stranger was his birth father Laius. Yes, it's the spooky fulfillment of a dream at the state prison when an owl oracle predicted that he would kill his father.

This new version of Sophocles' ancient classic is marked with violence, rage, and passion. And when Oedipus meets the beautiful widow Jocasta (his friend Creon's sister and wife of Laius), the passion truly ratchets up with a nude love-making scene. The chemistry between them is palpable, and in spite of knowing little about each other's history, they fall deeply in love.

Though Jocasta is newly-widowed, and supposedly mourning her late-husband Laius, she outdoes Shakespeare's Gertrude when it comes to embracing a second-husband on the very heels of burying her first.

True to Sophocles' prototypes, Juan Castano and Sandra Delgado inhabit Oedipus and Jocasta with a depth of feeling that seems like it will last forever. Julio Monge is spot-on as Tiresias, Oedipus' faux father who calls himself a "spiritual gangster." Joel Perez has the unenviable job of playing Jocasta's brother Creon and Laius' sidekick. A shout out also to the various Coros who serve the dramatic function of the Chorus. They become the theatrical glue of the play and make all of its parts coalesce.

Despite being as plain as can be Riccardo Hernandez' conveys the desolate spiritual atmosphere that permeates the everything. In spite of all the references to religion and a huge mural of the Virgin Mary and other religious figures on the back wall, most of the principals see God in a punitive light — or as Laius says to Tiresias a moment before asking him to kill his infant son Oedipus: "God is a grudge-holder. Everyone thinks he's up there making miracles. Pero ese cabron is sitting on his recliner with his remote making my life miserable."

While this Oedipus is quite accessible, a nodding acquaintance with the original will allow you to savor this version more. Playwright Luis Alfaro nimbly skates over the surface of the Oedipus story, only lingering when it comes to the love affair between Oedipus and Jocasta. .And, oh yes. Freudians should make it a point to see this reworking of the old Greek drama. After all, this was the story that prompted Sigmund Freud to develop his notion of the Oedipus Complex. As directed by Chay Yew, this all plays out as a soul-stretching experience, a great chance to experience Sophocles’ great classic in a steamy Latin key,.

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Oedipusdelrey by Luis Alfaro
Directed by Chay Yew Cast: Juan Castano (Oedipus, Coro)
Sandra Delgado (Jocasta), Julio Monge (Tiresias, Coro),Joel Perez (Creon, Coro), Brian Quijada (Coro),Reza Salazar (Coro), Juan Francisco Villa (Laius, Coro).
Scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez
Costume design by Anita Yavich
Lighting design by Lap Chi Chu
Original music and sound design by Fabian Obispo
Fight and intimacy direction by Unkle Daves Fight House.
Stage Manager: Buzz Cohen
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 Minutes, no intermission
Public Theater's LuEsther Hall 420 Lafayette St.
From 10/03/17; opening 10/24/16; closing 12/03/17
Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan at Nov.22 press matinee

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