Women rule (quite literally) in Steven Gridley's Post-Oedipus, an adaptation of Euripides' classic The Phoenician Women. Or at least one woman rules. The woman in question is Jocasta, Queen of Thebes, who begins the play observing a slide show of herself weeping. Striking a pose in imitation of herself, she wails and moans in attempts to find the necessary emotions to deliver her own introductory monologue to the audience. After failing several times, she gives up and calls upon a Messenger to finish the task, which he does to her satisfaction. Then the family is introduced. Ismene, the smart one. Eteocles, the usurper. Polyneices, the self-righteous warrior. Antigone, the sensitive daughter. And finally, Oedipus the shamed and blinded former-king of Thebes. Each one mechanically performs an action appropriate to his or her character as Strauss plays in the background. The family members continue to repeat their actions like skipping records in beautiful syncopation until the Messenger directs the sound designer to cut the music.
For the rest of the play, Eteocles and Polyneices quarrel over the throne, Oedipus attempts to regain his empire through a cockamamie do-it-yourself gumball vending opportunity, the girls struggle to be noticed, and Jocasta attempts to keep the family together, thus keeping Thebes from destruction. Ultimately, Jocasta fails in her mission and her family indulges itself in its pre-destined tragedy.
As the lynchpin of the production, Erin Treadway plays a marvelous Jocasta. Watching her transform from a vainglorious mother who wishes to be remembered for her familial sacrifices to a pathetic wretch driven mad from her losses is truly gut-wrenching. She delivers lines like, "It's odd, but when I look back on it, my life is actually much more fulfilling than it feels," with an incredible mixture of passion and aloofness.
But as the play begins to move away from Ms. Treadway's character, it begins to lose its balance. The side-plot of Oedipus and his gumball scheme succeeds from time to time in bringing some much-appreciated levity to the drama, but for the most part, it merely distracts from the real action. It is also a stretch to believe that the sniveling weasel that Andrew Bloch portrays as Oedipus could ever have been a patriarch capable of slaying a king and defeating the sphinx. Perhaps writer/co-director Steven Gridley and co-director Jacob Titus want to present their audience with a version of Oedipus that differs from the traditional one, but it is a version that I feel is entirely ineffective in garnering pathos from the audience.
The production suffers from other problems as well. The theater itself is lighted almost as brightly as the stage, making it difficult to focus on the story taking place on stage without being constantly aware of the audience. The music starts and stops abruptly too many times, which makes me wonder whether this is a directorial choice or just inexperienced sound design.
At times gothic, others slapstick, and still others melodramatic, the thematic content of Post-Oedipus wanders in too many directions to make any kind of lasting impression about any one issue. Certain directorial decisions seem arbitrary. For instance, some characters seem aware of and others oblivious to the fact that they are, indeed, actors in a play. The brothers Polyneices and Eteocles debate their reasons for wanting the crown of Thebes into microphones in a talk show setting, then one of the microphones is used as a P.A. to address the citizens of Thebes. Eteocles uses a slide projector as a machine gun to kill Polyneices, only to have to face Polyneices in hand-to-hand combat later. The boundaries of the world in which Post-Oedipus takes place are never clearly established, making the events that unfold equally unclear.
The play does create some great moments, including the busy, yet well balanced climax. Kudos to set design assistant Jenny Bonilla for getting the most out of a minimalist set, cleverly using a few sheets and picture frames to create a variety of props. And Karen Allen (no, not that Karen Allen) does a tremendous job evoking laughs while still managing to get lost in the crowd as Ismene, the under-appreciated and constantly ignored member of the family.
Though Post-Oedipus does have its moments, by the end of the play one feels as if he or she has seen a work-in-progress as opposed to a finished production. Some minor changes to the technical aspects of the show would improve it greatly, but only when Steven Gridley and Jacob Titus are able to focus their visions to produce a cohesive theme will the show reach its full potential.