Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Close, But No Cigar

Oedipus Complex
adapted and directed by Frank Galati
Corporate Sponsor Partner Fifth Third Bank
The Goodman Theatre

Side note: I love going to the larger theatrical venues in Chicago. It feels like an event. People are a little more dressed up and there seems to be a slight air of reverence for what we are about to see. There's a decorum, which I appreciate.

(A beef I have with Columbia College is that the students act like they're at a high school football game when they're attending a show. I dig a certain amount of energy and rowdiness if it's for the production and the story being told. Not because your bud's on stage.)

Note note: Oedipus Complex is a retelling of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex through Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-analysis who dubbed the condition of falling in love with one parent and hating the other as an Oedipal Complex. So, there's a natural connection here worth mining. Plus, both Oedipus and Freud share a common outlook on life - no matter what you do, you're fucked.

The good news is that Oedipus Complex is performed in a full one act that passes rather quickly. I was stunned to look at my watch and see almost two hours had passed. The set is elegant and evokes a sparse Victorian setting. Most everything, from the costumes to the set and the checkered floor, is in black and white, adding an unexpected dream-like quality. There's some very interesting staging and who doesn't love a good eye-gouging?

For all the potential of having Freud and Oedipus on the same stage together, the play falls short. Galati never takes these two iconic characters and makes them his own. He sticks to Sophocles' and Freud's words, thus Freud and Oedipus are stuck in their own scripts, with Freud often showing up in Oedipus's story as a bit player. They never interact as Freud and Oedipus. As a result, it's just Oedipus Rex done in the style of a Victorian melodrama with some cool images. Freud tells us a little bit about his mother and his dreams, but they never pack an emotional punch and seem to exist separate from and unaffected by the Oedipal story. Freud never has anything at stake in telling us this story and his character goes unchanged at the end. So, if you're familiar with Oedipus Rex, you don't leave learning or thinking about anything new.

Storywise, the first third of the production is very slow with lots and lots of dramatic yakking. Galati could really use some editing here. We really don't need the annoying prophet in the wheel chair to almost leave and then wheel back in to tell, Oedipus, again, for the umpteenth time, that he's in for a lot of misery. He already made his point. This actor chose to base his character on a cross between Simon Bar Sinister and Dr. Strangelove with a dash of Mr. Potter. An odd affected performance that grows weary. The production doesn't really kick in until the entrance of the Corinthian Messenger who's there to give Oedipus good news and offer hope to him and his wife (er, mother, Jocasta - theater's first MILF)that the Oracle was wrong. This scene through to the end is full of many twists and turns and inventive staging. Even though I knew better, it had me hoping for a happy ending. That's the best thing I can say about this production. It made me forget a well known story and had me cheering for Ol' Oedie.

As for Freud, he comes across as a quiet, gentle scholar when he was really a jackass. The premise is fraught with possibilities that are tossed aside and is simply used as a way to dress up an old Greek Tragedy. It's worth seeing, but sometimes a Greek Tragedy is just a Greek Tragedy.

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