KPBS AIRDATE: October 24, 2003
The earliest personal tragedy meets the latest political tragedy. Sophocles and Tony Kushner; what a perfect juxtaposition! The ancient dramatist created characters who struggled to right the wrongs they saw in the world. The modern playwright is the most dazzling dramatic/political voice of our era. Both writers hold the mirror up to us at close range, forcing us to look at who we are, where we’ve come from, what we’re doing with our lives and with each other.
In the classic, “Oedipus Tyrannus” (the Greek form of the Latin ‘Oedipus Rex’), the king and his parents have tried to escape the horrific prophecy that the son would murder his father and marry his mother. Sophocles’ play is an ancient detective story, an unraveling of events and lives, as the indomitable spirit of the doomed monarch forces him to unearth the truth, to find out who he really is, even if it means he loses everything he has. It’s a testimony to human will, endurance and the quest for candor and integrity. These are themes that apply equally to the brilliant work of Tony Kushner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his mind-blowing epic, “Angels in America.” Now he’s given us “Homebody/Kabul,” a prescient, fact-bound fantasy currently brought by Steppenwolf Theatre to the Mark Taper Forum in L.A., next-door to the gorgeous new Gehry Center. ‘Oedipus’ is closer to home, in a stirring and spare production at the 6th@ Penn Theatre, with a new, crystalline translation by Marianne MdConald. Both are lyrical, poetic, imagistic plays. Both contrast those who can see with those who can’t or won’t; those who act and those who stand at the sidelines. In pointing out the weakness and the potential strength in all of us, these dramas go straight to the soul.
Set in 1998, “Homeboy/Kabul” concerns a disaffected English housewife who escapes from her life into books, and ultimately, into Afghanistan. All the characters, resentments and hostilities of that country could easily be transported to Iraq. This is the Middle Eastern view of 21st century Anglo-American imperialism, as written by a luminous poet, dramatist and activist. The language, the play and the performances are incandescent.
In the local production, the performances are also impressive. Matt Scott gives a stellar interpretation of Oedipus, a strutting, arrogant king who ends up a broken, self-blinded beggar. The character’s journey and the actor’s performance are heartbreaking. As Jocasta, the ill-fated wife/mother, Cristina Soria is seductive and sympathetic; the couple’s sexuality is palpable, which makes their unsuspected crime that much more disturbing. George Ye has cast wisely and directed well, in addition to designing a beautiful soundscape.
If you’re a thinking theatergoer, if you care about politics, psychology, humanity and the state of the world, you dare not miss either of these powerful and empowering productions.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.