Sunday, February 10, 2019

Cast Your Fate to the Wind

It's shaping up to be a tragic weekend.

Meaning I went to see my second tragedy in two days, this time Sophocles' masterpiece of Greek tragedy, "Oedipus."

Except with a twist: Firehouse's production is "Oedipus, a Gospel Myth," which tells the Oedipus story within the framework of a black southern church service in the 1920s.

Praise the lord and pass the collection basket (yes, that really happened tonight).

But not any kind of church service this heathen has ever been to. When I first walked into the theater, the pianist, three-woman gospel choir and Jeremy V. Morris as the robe-clad preacher were all already onstage. But a minister's not going to let congregants come in without greeting them, so he called out a deep-voiced "hello!" and asked how I was doing this evening.

When I told him I was fine but expected to be better by the end of the evening, he smiled widely and said he hoped I would, too. From there, I found an unreserved seat in the second row, conveniently next to one my fellow theater panel members and his wife and in front of another, so with my people you might say.

Once the play began, the preacher made it clear that this was going to be a call and response kind of a service, with a fair amount of clapping in between. He went on to lay the groundwork for the story, explaining that the oracle had told Oedipus' father that he would die at his son's hands and marry his mother, a prospect so foul that it caused the preacher to let out a rousing, "Mercy!" in response.

For that matter, Morris was pitch perfect playing the holy man, the cadence and phrasing of everything he said pulling the listeners in. During one song by the gospel choir, he used his feet as percussion to punctuate the music, moving across the stage and finally behind the pulpit stepping in time.

At intermission, I heard a woman mention not only how incredibly talented the cast was, but how much obvious experience they had. And there is nothing like three strong soulful women's voices raised in gospel music.

Much the way I revel in seeing an all-female cast (say, "Alice" or any of the gender-reversed Shakespeare plays I've seen), it was positively life-affirming to see a production with an all-black cast, never more so than while the subject of blackface and minstrel shows continues to dominate the news feed, not just in Virginia but beyond.

New to me was R.O. Crews, who played Oedipus' uncle/brother-in-law Kreon, with a clarity of speech and a sensitive bent, but every time I looked at him, I saw Gerry, my best friend's ex-husband. It was a little eerie and I kept expecting him to start salsa dancing or something.

Of course, a play written in 429 B.C. is bound to have a few dated moments, never more so than when dl hopkins as the blinded Oedipus entreats Kreon to look after his daughters once he's exiled. "Don't let them live unmarried and helpless," he begs.

News flash, Sophocles, the two qualities are not one and the same, although it reminds me a little of my Mom who's always insisted she can't die because I'm not married.

What kind of insolent daughter would I be to give her her wish if it means she'll then be able to die? Hell, Oedipus and I could be cellmates, the father-killer and the mother-killer. No, thanks.

On the humorous side, during a discussion of the plagues - land and women being no longer fertile - affecting their city and how to address them, someone says the goal is to make Thebes great again.

Ba dum bum.

One of the most difficult monologues to hear was delivered by Keaton Hillman as the servant boy who explained how Oedipus' wife (and, technically, mother) Jocasta had hung herself and how Oedipus had then removed the two brooches from her gown and used the pins to repeatedly stab his eyes and blind himself.

It was a long, painful explanation, graphic in nature and told in the most heart-wrenching manner. Hearing it spoken like that was even more difficult than seeing Oedipus come out with a bloody bandage over his eyes and blood-stained shirt and pants.

And, just like last night's tragedy, things ended about as badly as they could.

Walking out of the Firehouse into the unpleasantly cold night air, a group of theater-goers walked behind me talking excitedly about the play. "I got confused at one part about what was going on," one of the women said. "Now, who was Kreon?"

Mercy, that's about all I can say to that.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE your perspective! Brings to life much of what I saw; and I've seen it twice.