Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Oedipus Apparatus
Mitch Eagles is the young king, strong, commanding and intelligent: receiving reports from Creon (an increasingly panicked Will Bonfiglio) and a priestess (Rachel Tibbetts, alternating between classical elegance and TV hostess gaiety, in her other role as Athena), all concerning the cause of a plague ravaging his kingdom (sudden death is rampant, and the river is filled with blood).
But in this mad, brash, new retelling, Oedipus spends much of his time in a state of utter disbelief that some small, central corruption or unknown misdeed or flaw at the center-most point of his kingdom could radiate outwards and totally ruin a nation. The "main event" in the curse on his fatheran unexplained murderhappened ten years earlier. And the young king is bound and determined to dismiss talk of "curses," and all unscientific thinking, even as sensibility gives way to madness.
It's funny, and we laugh as modern, idiomatic language and manners do the work of a 2,500-year-old tale, with the gods running a comically bizarre "psychic hotline" TV show when they're not managing Oedipus' awful fate. It's also high absurdism, in the manner of Eugene Ionesco, or it's subversively strange, in the way that that David Lynch's classic films (Mr. Eagles even resembles a young Kyle McLachlan). And because we're all very modern, we laugh at all the cleverly laid clues and the ridiculous foreshadowing to this silly old legend. Until things get ruthlessly absurd near the end.
Hop on a train, plane or automobile, and see it as soon as you canit is classical and absurdist and modern art, all smashed into one beautiful conglomeration.
Director Lucy Cashion, who gave us the astounding Trash Macbeth a year ago, was invited to develop any play of her choosing this spring, by the West End Players Guild, on the strength of that 2016 production. She and her ensemble and crew came up with The Oedipus Apparatus, a story to entrap us, even as we think modernity will set us free.
It's utter madness by the end, though Sophocles' fundamental scaffolding is still in placemadness, competing with the most sensible "geometric" Greek logic imaginable. And just as Oedipus is obsessed with circles and radiating lines, more and more, his daughter Antigone is fascinated by axes and blocks of wood and force equations, which she will test at the very last moment of the show. (There's a lot more to it than that, outrageous family history and implacable confrontations with Creon and Tiresias, played by Carl Overly, Jr.) Till the big climax, though, it's the tragedy of reason, trampled by fate.
It's also comical and magnificent, and ultimately catastrophic, because the plague represents the wrath of the Greek gods, who cursed the previous King Laius (a "creepy rapist," according to his granddaughter, Antigone, played by Alicen Moser, a bright 10-year-old girl, working on her family tree for a school project). Laius, of course, was warned he must die by the hand of his own child. So when a child was finally born to him and Jocasta (the languidly corrupted Maggie Conroy), they got rid of it after the first three days.
"Let me just stop you right there," as this most sensible and decisive Oedipus likes to say, when all the curse-talk becomes oppressive. We have to stop, because we've left out most of the gods, who play a very large part in the story.
Really, it all begins with Antigone's hushed prayer for the audience, beginning in the dark, urging that we might find a way to be joyful in our final moment of life; and then her mother Jocasta stands (at the opposite side of the stage, as if in a dream), saying, "no one I love will die today." It's all strangely unreassuring.
And there's a lot of crazy-fast repetition in the curse-warning scenes, where Oedipus holds tighter and tighter to his steadfast geometric rigor, replayed as if Apollo were reminiscing over these foolish moments for his own amusement. Then we get to the Psychic Hotline of the gods.
Athena (a henna-haired Ms. Tibbetts) invites us in with a wink and a smile, the curtains part, and there is this gaggle of fortunetellers and prophets inspired by TV's "The View," cackling and giggling and engaging in a lot of lively cross-talk, as they wait for a caller. It's Antigone on the line, with that odd problem of force equations. Tiresias (Mr. Overly), the blind soothsayer, answers in a complete and correct manner, and then launches in to the show's buoyant catch-phrase, "Enjoy the future!"
But he cuts himself off abruptly, for Oedipus' daughter, in a moment of premonition and apprehension, changing it to, "Enjoy ... the present."
Other great seers in this eternal "View" include Ellie Schwetye as an upper-crust Sphinx, full of delightful swagger as the "7,000 year old xenomorphic riddler"; Michael Cassidy Flynn as Sigmund Freud, a cosmopolite in a smoking jacket and interpreter of dreams; and Cara Barresi as Artemis the hunter, with her magic arrow.
Finally, though, the curse and the mystery of Oedipus' lineage is cleared up by a strangely blithe Jocasta, and things get really out of hand. She comes down from her bedchamber and sings an oddly hilarious torch song. Horror quickly mounts on horror.
The Oedipus Apparatus is a one of a kind experiencedon't miss it.
Through April 30, 2017, at the Union Avenue Christian Church 733 Union Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108. For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.
Cast of Characters