How prophetic indeed that the most satisfying performance in Sophocles’ so-called “perfect” tragedy would be Nigel Bennett’s Queen of the Plague portrayal (ably assisted by many lavender touches from Victoria Wallace’s costuming skills—including heels that Apollo might well have sported in pursuit of the comely Hyacinth; the famed god of the sun, light and music also at the root of Oedipus’ woes) of blind soothsayer, Teiresias.
The wonderful irony of seeing the future while being totally unable to view “her” master, King of Thebes (Gord Rand’s decibel levels pushing the needle too often into red territory—understated or inward-looking shock, awe and horror are frequently far more telling than declaiming all-consuming angst to the rooftops), marvellously set the table for the most certainly willful blindness to come, but director Daniel Brooks soon lost his way in the—perhaps—most famous destruction of a human soul ever.
Opting to employ contemporary dress for this centuries-old tale of incest and patricide more confused than reinforced the drama. The grey-suited chorus (masterfully led by Deidre Gillard-Rowlings) had a nice Bay Street look, but both Oedipus and brother-in-law Kreon (Christopher Morris, employing more range than his ruler) failed to look anything like regal even as mother-wife Jocasta (Yanna McIntosh curiously lacking the chemistry that ought to smoulder between herself and her son-husband) appeared to be more of an upscale event planner than She Who Must Be Stood for.
Still in the costuming/direction departments, having Oedipus appear stark naked after gouging out his eyes (self-punishment for unthinkable, plague-producing sins that—according to prophecy—he had no way of avoiding) vastly weakened the miserable effect of his comeuppance.
Not since the far over-the-top brutality of The Passion of the Christ (cross-reference below), have I born witness to such a fine looking body being so sadly and somewhat cheaply exploited (whereas last night’s nudity did serve an important metaphorical purpose in Possible Worlds—cross-reference below).
Worse, when Kreon finally demands that the bloody flesh be covered, a trench coat does the honours, only to produce an unintentional (one can only hope), creepy effect of Oedipus as child molester/flasher when his sisters/daughters are summoned to bid a tearful farewell to their soon-to-be-banished Dad/brother.
As heroic and courageous as Rand’s performance was, the inadvertent juxtaposition of modern-era child abuse on a timeless classic, left some in the crowd feeling more soiled than uplifted as we disappeared into the night.
Note: Curious readers are invited to find a copy of Stratford devotee and writer extraordinaire, Roberson Davies’ Happy Alchemy. This fascinating collection of “writings on the theatre and other lively arts” includes a film treatment of Oedipus Rex (“Look at the Clock!”) that reveals extraordinary insight into the original play. JWR