Oedipus Rex is one of the few surviving plays from ancient Greece. Written by Sophocles as the second of a trio of plays about King Oedipus and his family, Oedipus Rex is rife with the impact of following fate and choosing to exercise free will. The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s theatre department takes an tale of ancient Greece and moves it to 300 years in the future where humans have reverted to being subject to the will of the gods.
The city of Thebes is in turmoil because a horrible plague has descended upon it. King Oedipus vows to do whatever is needed to save the citizens. Word comes down from the gods that Thebes is dying because the murderer of the former King still resides in the city. When badgered into confessing, the blind seer, Tieresias, tells Oedipus himself murdered the former King. Oedipus will not believe it and thinks it is a conspiracy of his bother-in-law’s to usurp power. A series of stories from the gods reveal that Oedipus was told that he would murder his father and marry his mother, so he left his parents. Queen Jocasta reveals that she and the former King had a baby that the gods said would murder its father, so the former King banished the baby. Jocasta realizes first that everything the gods foretold has come to pass. Oedipus requires more persuasion and proof that he is his wife’s son.
Director Tony Horne’s re-imagining of Oedipus Rex into the future puts the play into an interesting light. Disaster after disaster has moved people to revere Greek gods and visit the Oracle for guidance, instead of becoming more rational. Horne does not let this artistic choice impact the language of the play. It’s an affecting choice, although if the audience doesn’t read the program before hand they probably won’t notice the fast forward in time.
The chorus provides commentary and also voices the inner thoughts that characters cannot say aloud. Choreographed by Shell M. Benjamin and orchestrated by Raeleen McMillion, the chorus is gorgeous and terrifying. Their movement and dance seem spontaneous and effortless. Andrew Edwin Voss shoulders an incredible responsibility as the title character. While adept and suitably heroic, one wishes he would express a few more emotions than just anger and impatience.
Oedipus Rex is a classic play that UWM has made timeless. Its themes of fate versus free will present questions that may never be answered, which may be one of the reasons this particular play has become such an enduring dramatic work. UWM’s production certainly showcases the department’s talent and work ethic.
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