‘Oedipus el Rey’: Even kings must bow to fate
By Julie Cortez
El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — The gods are still up to their manipulative tricks, the chorus continuously chimes in, and there’s still that small matter of a man unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother, but despite several nods to its Classical Greek origins, Miracle Theatre’s production of “Oedipus el Rey” is decidedly Chicano.
In this modern adaptation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King,” playwright Luis Alfaro has traded the kingdom of Thebes for the gang turf of East L.A., togas for tight white tanks, and an old family curse for a far more problematic and complicated scourge: the culture of gang violence.
“It’s a passionate, tough piece of writing from a brilliant Latino playwright,” says Miracle MainStage Artistic Director Olga Sanchez, who portrays Oedipus’ mother, Jocasta. “It contains poetry, movement, and a universal drama expressed through the lens of the Latino experience.”
After a recent dress rehearsal performance, Sanchez sought feedback from the audience. If she was looking for validation for Miracle’s latest play choice, she certainly got it by way of a standing ovation and high praise.
Among the most striking audience responses were probably those about the love story between Oedipus and Jocasta — which despite the inevitable “ick” factor of incest comes across as quite warm, moving, and believable.
“In Sophocles’ version the affair between Jocasta and Oedipus is barely described,” Sanchez says. “In Alfaro’s it becomes the love story at the heart of the play. Jocasta’s loss of her baby … left her profoundly wounded. When the young man Oedipus arrives, he is a balm to her pain, a person who brings her joy and love. She is healed, until, of course, she learns the truth about her identity.”
While there are many obvious differences between “Oedipus el Rey” and “Oedipus the King,” director and costume designer Elizabeth Huffman — who has helmed both plays in her career — sees no difference in the demands of bringing these two “extremely challenging pieces of theatre” to the stage. But Huffman, who served as costume designer for a production of “Oedipus el Rey” in Los Angeles when it was still in its early stages of development, has not been immune to pleasant surprises this time around.
“Excellent actors always surprise me,” she says. “Great designers teach me and they all give me better ideas than I had to begin with. Every day in rehearsal someone comes up with something awesome that delights me. It has been a truly rich and wonderful experience working on this play.”
Running May 3-26 at the Milagro Theatre in Portland, “Oedipus el Rey” will be accompanied by a free Oregon Humanities conversation series entitled “Gangs and the Myth of Fate.” Following the Sunday matinee performances on May 6, 13, and 20, panelists will discuss the parallels between the ancient Oedipus tale and modern gang life, how to counteract the lure of gangs, and how to intercede with youth who have already succumbed to that lure. For more information, visit milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.
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