Small Tragedy by Craig Lucas
Craig Lucas' newest play, Small Tragedy, gets its world premiere in a finely acted production, co-produced by Hidden Theatre and the Playwright's Center. In a clever play-within-a-play scenario, Lucas' witty script packs laughter and unfolds tragedies of national and international proportions. At times, Lucas' apprehension about our political life verges on the didactic. But in revealing America's penchant for denial and blame in the purblind pursuit of happiness, particularly since 911, his topical play hits its mark with discomforting accuracy.
Tragedy opens with auditions for a community theater production of Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex and progresses to a hilarious first rehearsal, where chronic relationship problems and new attractions among the cast's six members threaten the viability of the production. As rehearsals continue, dark secrets emerge, until finally, reality begins to shadow the tragic dimensions of Oedipus .
In dead-on casting, director Kip Fagan found Bent Doyle to play an enigmatic young Bosnian, who has left the violence in his war-torn homeland to rebuild his life in the US. Doyle's fine, Arian features and his ability to carry a consistent accent makes him convincing as Hakija. Hakija is given the role of Oedipus and, in first-rate acting, Doyle takes off with both roles. As Hakija, he's emotionally hidden and sexually magnetic; when he's Oedipus, dressing-down blind Tiresius for revealing the truth, the force of his passion and the cruelty in the sneering curl of his lips made me want to duck. This is a tour-de-force role for Doyle.
Annelise Christ plays Jen, a young woman who has already been betrayed in marriage, and she takes the role of Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. Once a person knows the truth, it's hard to un-know it, but Jen makes a conscious decision at play's end that will gnaw at the rest of her life like a cancer. Couched within the frame of Sophocles' tragedy and the complacency within US national life, her decision takes on a symbolic weight that Christ carries well.
These young thespians are a likeable bunch. Both Maggie Chestovich as brittle Fanny and Amy McDonald as the dysfunctional Paula draw great humor from their roles. Vincent Delaney plays attractive Nate, the inept director, who harbors radical right-wing views, and young Christmas is sweetly vulnerable in Peter Middlecamp's sensitive hands.
Tragedy loses momentum when self-blinded Oedipus perseverates too long at the close of the Oedipus Rex drama. Although Oedipus Rex provides an apt frame for Tragedy's timely universality, it is the young people and their engagement with the meaning of Sophocles' play that grabbed my interest. When Lucas returns the action to the present, Tragedy regains it pace for its painful dénouement.
Small Tragedy,. June 6 - June 29. Mondays & Fridays through Sundays matinees 8:00 p.m. The Playwright's Center, 2301, East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis. Call: 612-332-7841 ext. 14.