It is always exciting to see a new treatment of a classic. Oedipus El Rey is a retelling of the Oedipus legend placed in a Hispanic context. The Culture Clash troupe does this kind of thing, but the approach can be beset with troubles and you often ask yourself “why?”
Not in this case. Oedipus El Rey as conceived by Luis Alfaro and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera is a great success, thanks to the fine writing, excellent and imaginative direction, and strong casting.
Alfaro tells his tale using seven strong actors. Oedipus (a terrific Justin Huen) is released from a prison where a blind man, Tiresias (underplayed nicely by Winston Rocha) has raised him from childhood. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, he is the son of King Laius (Leandro Cano) and Queen Jocaste (the powerful Marlene Forte). Oedipus ends up, as prophesied, killing his father and bedding his mother.
The scenes of passion between the intense Oedipus and the equally emotional Jocaste are absolutely riveting. Daniel Chacon plays Creon with great verve and even a sense of humor. God knows these tragedies need humor.
Everyone but Oedipus and Jocaste is in the chorus. Rivera gets some strong choral work from them and they are never stiff or too formal but really seem to be part of the action. When three of the men configure themselves as the Sphinx the result is theatrical magic.
The set is most effective, with chairs set up behind sliding prison gates, and the lighting is spot-on to create the needed tension. Special praise must be given to actor Justin Huen. He not only acts the hell out of his part but he lives it. There is not a false note in his performance.
This play was developed in the Getty Lab, which specializes in developing new ways to see classics. An interesting aspect of this play is that it is being performed by three separate theatre companies, directed by three different directors. This is certainly an interesting way to develop a play but I can’t imagine a better production than the one at Boston Court. Oedipus El Rey plays until March 28th. See it if you enjoy good theatre.