“Oedipus El Rey” at Boston Court

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.


From their first prickly (no pun intended) introduction, Oedipus and Jocasta begin to sense a connection between them neither can understand. “I look at you like a sentence just got finished,” he admits to her in typically lyrical Alfaro-speak, and Oedipus’ world begins at first to soar, then soon to crumble bigtime.

Huen and Forte are transcendent as world literature’s most notorious cursed lovers and, under Jon Lawrence Rivera’s sensitive direction, their initial meeting, which culminates in one of the most sensual, graphic, yet incredibly tasteful dances of blisteringly hot full-frontal erotica I’ve ever seen on any stage, is breathtaking. The respect for one another and fierce trust between these two actors, who previously worked together in last year’s Dias y Flores, which was written by Forte’s husband Oliver Mayer for Company of Angels and directed by Alfaro, is a given.

Huen, winner of my TicketHolder Best Supporting Actor Award 2009 for Dias y Flores, is one of our town’s most gifted young up-and-comers, something as apparent as Forte’s status as a slickly skilled veteran performer. Cano and Chacon 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

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com