Oedipus the King

Jay Stratton and Edward James Hyland
A forceful production of a Greek tragedy, crackling with tension, opens the Public Theatre's 2006-2007 season with great success. Ted Pappas directs Oedipus the King (translated by William Butler Yeats) with a modern yet respectful approach. Let's face it, who doesn't know the big secret in this classic of all classics, if not by knowledge of the play, by its famous psychology complex? Yet, as the play unfolds and the backstory is revealed, the anticipation of Oedipus finally learning his true identity has us on the edges of our seats. As usual, the Public provides a complete package, with a superb cast as well as stunning set, lighting and sound design, and is a perfect kickoff for a new season.

With the assistance of a well-choreographed and expeditious Greek chorus, Oedipus' story is laid out for us. As a boy, he left his home and his parents, the King and Queen of Corinth, because he was told by an oracle that he was fated to kill his father and marry his mother. He travels to Thebes, having killed several men during a confrontation on the way. As he arrives, Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx, who has been eating alive those who had previously failed. The citizens are so grateful that the Sphinx has been defeated that they offer Oedipus the throne and the widowed Queen Jocasta's hand in marriage. Oedipus and Jocasta live happily, with their four children, until a plague overtakes the kingdom. Believing that the plague was caused by outrage over the murder of Jocasta's first husband, Laius, Oedipus sets out to identify and exile those responsible for his predecessor's death. It is through these actions that Oedipus learns the tragedy of his true identity.

Jay Stratton brings terrific conviction to this role. The range of emotions Oedipus must go though (and quickly, as it's only a 70-minute play) are negotiated clearly and smoothly, especially when Oedipus is at the point where he discovers who he really is, yet emotionally has yet to admit it. Stratton effectively holds his place as the center of the story, and of the production. As Jocasta, Helena Ruoti reveals less about her character's emotions, with a superficial stridency which emphasizes the maturity of the Queen. Edward James Hyland, costumed strikingly by David R. Zyla, is superb as Tiresias the blind prophet, and Michael McKenzie quite impressive as Creon. The aforementioned chorus, consisting of five actors always welcome on a Pittsburgh stage (Darren Elkner, Jeffrey Howell, Daniel Krell, Doug Mertz, Joe Warik), ties things together and, through chanting and dancing, emphasize the mythical atmosphere of the story.

James Noone's set - which seems simply as a circular, stone floor and imposing double doorway surrounded by black reflective walls - serves the production perfectly, showing its own gamut of emotions with the aid of Kirk Bookman's terrific lighting. Atmospheric sound design by Zach Moore contributes positively. David R. Zyla has curiously costumed most, but not all of the performers in modern dress, with actors in contemporary men's business suits and Ms. Ruoti in a feminine version of the same (with the two requisite sharp brooches). I'm not sure of the intended effect of this choice, but it is not distractingly incongruous.

Oedipus the King plays through October 29 at the O'Reilly Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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