Oedipus Rex

This weekend, eerie rhythms, drifting smoke and spiked platforms will transform Tang Theatre into a chilling ancient universe for the winter Theater 520 production “Oedipus Rex.” Directed by Instructor in Theatre and Dance Kevin Heelan, the production takes a dark twist on Sophocles’s quintessential Greek tragedy utilizing unnatural movements and terrifying tribal make-up and masks that will enrapture audiences. The Story Scotty Fleming ’10 stars as Oedipus, the king of the plagued and dying city of Thebes. Calista Small ’10 plays Jocasta, Oedipus’s wife. “It’s a pretty tangled group,” said Charlie Walters ’10, who plays Creon, Jocasta’s brother and second-in-command in Thebes. Facing desperate pleas from his subjects, the chorus, Oedipus orders Creon to consult the Oracle of Delphi to save the city. Creon reports that Apollo cursed the city because no one has caught the murderer of the former king, Laius. In his search for the murderer’s identity, Oedipus calls on Tiresias, a blind prophet played by Andrew Schlager ’12. When Tiresias refuses to reveal who the murderer is, Oedipus angrily blames him. Tiresias shouts back the accusation that Oedipus himself is the murderer. From this premise of convoluted claims and vague prophecies, Oedipus embarks on a search for Laius’s killer as well as the truth of his own identity. Fleming said, “The whole play, at least to me, is about uncovering truth, and Oedipus is this figure who is stuck. I’m just fated to be this man cursed by the gods, and I get so frustrated.” “There are definitely people in the cast that are going to be doing this for their life if they choose to,” Allen Grimm, Technical Director of the show and Teaching Fellow in Theatre and Dance, said. He added, “It’s neat to see Andrew Schlager do a non-comedic role. What a range he does have as a performer.” In most rehearsals, the cast members focused on transforming into their characters. “The Greek sensibility is so foreign from ours. We live in [a] therapeutic culture. Everything is medicalized—what used to be described as character traits are now psychological maladies,” said Heelan. The actors had to overcome the challenge of getting into a new mindset. Bringing the Chorus to Life While the lead characters speak on stage, the chorus constantly reacts with twisted, unearthly movements and hissing or moaning. The costumes for the chorus are large, stretchy fabric “pods” that fit several members at once, their heads and arms emerging spookily from holes in the fabric. Judith Wombwell, Director of Movement for the production, said, “We had this idea that everybody was kind of restricted by something. You can think of the fabric basically as this curse that has come down on Thebes.” “I was influenced by a Japanese style of movement called butoh, body in crisis, because Thebes is in crisis. [The Thebans are] sick. They’re dying. They’re desperate, and so I decided to use that style as a jumping off point,” said Wombwell. Chorus member Nikita Lamba ’11 said, “It’s a lot of work, just because you are on stage the whole time, but it’s interesting. It’s a weird dichotomy of trying to be part of the group and trying to keep an individual character at the same time.” The Costumes Other costumes are equally interesting, ranging from regal robes to dusty hooded cloaks paired with sculptural masks. Billy Murray, Instructor in Theatre and Dance, designed the pieces and constructed them with students in his Costume Design class. Claire King ’10, a student in Murray’s class, said, “The sewing and putting everything together was the easy part. Because this show is very dark and gloomy, the hardest part was distressing all of [the costumes]. It was sort of sad, because once you put all your hard work into making this piece, you have to rip and shred and throw brown paint all over [it].” While working on the tragedy, the cast still found time to have fun in their costumes. Fleming and Walters amused fellow cast members with their sense of style. “One time we decided that on Wednesday we were going to wear our red onesies together,” said Fleming. The first day the cast practiced with costumes, Fleming and Walters decided to wear their robes with no shirts underneath. “[The costumes] are really hot,” said Fleming, “So I put my robe down sitting backstage, going over my lines, and then all of a sudden I hear my cue, so I run up and I totally forgot that I didn’t have my robe on, and I was standing there in front of forty chorus members with my bare top.” The Set and Music With aggressive spikes lining various platforms, the set will transport audiences to another world. Surprisingly, the multi-leveled design was built out of the same materials as the set for the fall musical “Tommy” for financial reasons. Heelan explained, “It was actually a tremendous advantage because we were incredibly limited in what we could do, and the more limited you are, the better off you are, because you have to use your imagination.” Grimm, who designed the set, said, “I wanted [the railing] to look kind of like a cactus. Cactuses can be really pretty, and they have beautiful flowers, but they also have things that hurt, and this whole play is manifested in that kind of metaphor for me.” Musicians in the pit play ominous music on guitar, drums and a Chinese instrument called the pipa that is plucked while wearing fake nails. “Underneath the whole play there is this constant sense of foreboding, and then there is a bump up at certain times, like entrances and exits,” said Heelan. Felicia Jia ’12, who plays the pipa, said “There is no actual structure for [the music], so it’s quite spontaneous. I improvise for most of it, I listen and then I play.” The culmination of inspiration, talent and months of effort will surely be startling. Stage manager Courtney King ’10 said, “It’s funny because I am so easily scared. I get chills every time I watch it, every five minutes. I’m kind of adverse to horror movies myself, but I adore this play, and it’s definitely worth seeing.”