Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2005

Sultry ‘Jocasta’ adaptation confusing at times

April 2, 2005

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After 2,400 years of the tragedy from Oedipus' point of view, it seems fair to hear from Jocasta. Paul Stephen Lim brings the queen's story as told by Michele Fabien to the Lawrence Arts Center stage this weekend. Lim has adapted the text of this one-woman show by parceling out the original monologue into speeches for five characters: older and younger Jocasta, older and younger Oedipus, and a narrator.

Lim characterizes the work as "a play about female desire," and his staging makes it clear that Jocasta was not unhappy to welcome the handsome young hero as her new husband. Though there is no nudity, the characters' embraces at close quarters leave no doubt as to the carnal nature of the relationship. At times, particularly during the final scene, the actors' lines clearly match the physical action. At other times, this perspective seems forced, as when both the younger and older Oedipus discuss the oracle's prophecy in abstract terms, while the two Jocastas fondle them.

But perhaps this is meant to emphasize the role of Oedipus for Jocasta, in this version, as essentially a boy-toy; and indeed the two Oedipi regularly seem passive, objectified, in contrast with the sexual aggression of the Jocastas.

Joseph Gipp as the younger Oedipus and Aron Carlson as the older are thus limited by their roles, but both fulfill the director's vision of Oedipus as the object of Jocasta's desire -- and their agony in the "blinding" scene is convincing.

Jan Chapman as the younger Jocasta handles unpleasant material satisfactorily in the first two scenes -- delicate sensibilities will not enjoy her graphic descriptions of filth and stench in the "plague" scene -- but she really comes alive once she begins vamping Oedipus. Believably kittenish or tigerish by turns, she leaves her love object no room for escape.

Dianne Yeahquo Reyner, the older Jocasta, offers a good counterpoint to her younger self's speeches. Representing the mature queen with fewer illusions, she projects a weary but majestic hauteur befitting her character.

The part of the narrator is played compellingly by Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka. At times aloof from the other characters, occasionally interacting with them, she is a commanding presence onstage. One must listen closely to understand her at all times; though she enunciates very distinctly, even audience members accustomed to exotic accents confessed difficulty in comprehending at times.






Presented by English Alternative TheatreWhen: 8 p.m. today and 2:30 p.m. SundayWhere: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.Tickets: Adults, $10; students, $6; seniors, $8Ticket info: 843-2787

Assigning parts of one woman's monologue to three women and two men does present difficulties. At times, the queen's thoughts sound strange in the mouth of Oedipus, as when Young Oedipus says "Didn't Oedipus himself, armed only with his brains, drive away the Sphinx?"

Lee Saylor's scenic and lighting design is effective, with a scattering of fallen columns and urns suggesting Greece, while the Theban palace is sketched with a suspended throne and strips of fabric hanging from above. Intense lighting of a backdrop -- yellow for the sun's heat during the plague, golden for the "celebration" scene -- handily creates the desired moods.

Kaye Miller's costumes are colorful and well-suited to each character; and Eric Avery's hand as choreographer is clearly visible in the studied movements of the ensemble.




Dean Bevan is professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at bevan@ku.edu.

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