Oedipus El Rey
Theatre @ Boston Court
When I had the great honor of seeing Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, his riveting modernday adaptation of Sophocles’ 429 BC epic play about that infamous fictional King of Thebes who unwittingly kills his father and does the Nasty with his mother (first performed a few years back in 429 BC), the piece was supposedly in its final gasps of performance at Pasadena’s brave and unstoppable Theatre @ Boston Court.
In other words, I didn’t scribble my usual copious chicken scratches in the darkened theatre—some of which I can actually read later—so unfortunately I’m going to have to wing it here and offer the Cliff Notes version of my thoughts, as this is one presentation not to be missed. Set alternately in Los Angeles’ Pico-Union district and North Kern State Prison, Oedipus El Rey features a dynamic all-Latino cast, with Alfaro’s richly quirky characters spouting their best Spanglish and confronting one another with gang signs and barrio rivalries rather than classically sweeping gestures and lances at the ready.
“I can do better than God—his ego’s too big,” the doomed ‘hood boss Laius (Leandro Cano) brags to his long-suffering mate Jocasta (Marlene Forte) before his fateful encounter on a downtown street corner with the grown son he had given away at birth to his faithful friend Tiresias (Winston J. Rocha) to murder before the prophecy that the boy will grow up and kill him is able to be fulfilled. “Today, God is sitting in a recliner with a remote laughing at me,” Laius considers aloud to his wife before he leaves, and he isn’t wrong.
Meeting Oedipus (Justin Huen) on a street corner as the young man barely out of his teens is released from a life spent primarily behind bars, the two fall into an immediate whosgotthebiggerpecker turf war confrontation on the sidewalk that results in the beating death of the older man. Soon after, looking for a place to crash at the home of his former cellmate Creon (Daniel Chacon), he meets the kid’s sister who is, of course, the recently widowed Jocasta.
winner of my TicketHolder Best Supporting Actor Award 2009 for Dias y Flores, give excellent support as her husband and brother, as do Carlos Acuna and Michael Uribes who, along with the others, form a knockout Greek chorus made up of Oedipus’ wise, versatile, and often hilarious fellow residents of North Kern State Prison.
Rocha as the blind Tiresias, who raised the “king” as his own and even committed a crime to be incarcerated with him during his formative years, gives a truly heartbreaking performance—and a late two-handed scene between he and Huen, as both men contemplate the agonizing web of events that has trapped Oedipus in its ominous net of unfortunate providence, brings us the finest work of the evening.
Still, the true star of this presentation is Luis Alfaro, whose ability to translate historical epics into gloriously irreverent masterpieces of contemporary poetry is staggering. His Oedipus El Rey is a major theatrical event for El Lay and this intensely tight ensemble cast, Rivera’s brilliant staging, the fight choreography by Edgar Landa, as well as the starkly beautiful design contributions of John H. Binkley (set), Jeremy Pivnik (lighting), Robert Oriel (sound and original music), and Dori Quan (costuming), are all absolutely flawless components of this production’s uniqueness and success.
Oedipus El Rey is extended through Apr. 11 at Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Av., Pasadena; for tickets, call 626.683.6883. Or visit www.bostoncourt.com