Pict Gives Classic 'Oedipus' Its Due

By Rawson, Christopher | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 29, 2017 | Go to article overview

Pict Gives Classic 'Oedipus' Its Due


Rawson, Christopher, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


And now for the granddaddy of them all, Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex"! It's not literally the oldest play in the western canon, but it's the one most people know, the distant ancestor of works from Shakespeare to Freud and beyond.

So it's understandable there was some trepidation in the opening night audience: It wasn't whether the play would live up to the occasion so much as whether the audience would live up to the play.

That both were able to discharge their duties to each other is due first to the overall clarity of the PICT Classic Theater production, directed by Alan Stanford, but before that, to the clarity of the same Mr. Stanford's adaptation, written 20 years ago, based on several unidentified translations. The point is that he keeps the language fresh, not musty, without crossing over into wild anachronism. An audience need not fear this great play.

However, he does make changes, mainly to act out scenes that in Sophocles are described secondhand by the chorus of Theban citizens. The flashiest is Oedipus' deadly encounter with the Sphinx (the vicious Greek one, not the mighty Egyptian), where he even supplies three riddles that aren't in Sophocles, perhaps drawing on other versions.

This is fine. To its original audience, Oedipus' story was well known, so Sophocles could focus on nuance, such as how conditional or categorical (it's not quite clear) were the oracles' and seer's prophecies (there are several) about him killing his father and marrying his mother. Mr. Stanford's drive is to tell the story as clearly as he can while maintaining its primal mystery.

His chief innovation in staging is to merge most individual roles into the chorus of nine. Gradually Oedipus, Jocasta and her brother Creon emerge from the chorus and stay distinct, while smaller roles, mainly to act out stories that Sophocles alludes to, emerge from the chorus and then return.

For those who've forgotten, the play is about Oedipus trying to throw off a curse by discovering who murdered the man who proceeded him as king, whose wife he then married. Even for those of us who think we know the story, there are rich details to discover.

Sophocles could've written for episodic TV (one of the classy cable channels, of course), that's how well he manages what is basically a detective story intermixed with studies of personality under pressure. …

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