Generally speaking, modern interpretations of classic Greek theatre can be very difficult to pull off; you have to worry about translations, keeping true to the Greek style of theatre and relating to a contemporary audience. I am pleased to say that the Stratford Festival rendition of Oedipus Rex passed this test with flying colours.
This play combined the traditional elements of Greek theatre, such as the elongated arrangement of the stage, high-rise seating for the audience and even the use of drums throughout the performance to indicate emotional atmosphere. At the same time, a modern setting was indicated through the suited-up, alcohol chugging actors. What really sold me on the fusion of classic and contemporary was the elegant use of the Chorus. Aside from their role of explaining surrounding occurrences, the Chorus portrayed a typical mob: something very similar to everyday people judging or praising celebrities based on what story/news came up. The Chorus Leader (Deidre Gillard Rowlings) depicted the perfect personification of our media that either makes people worship or bash our officials. Rowlings shot through this message especially well with her overemotional support of Oedipus (Gord Rand), slowly transitioning into bitter disgust in the end.
Another testament to this production’s commitment to modernity is the stylish portrayal of Teiresias (Nigel Bennett). The actor’s drag-queen wardrobe (fashioned with earrings, hot-blue stilettos, and a fancy scarf) accentuated Sophocles’ original purpose for Teiresias, by setting the character up as a social outcast who forsook conformity to serve a higher purpose.
Finally, saving the best for last, I want to comment on the majesty of Rand’s Oedipus. Rarely have I seen such ability of transitioning a character from calm, wise, and rational to extremely insane. Rand poured bloody-rain of insanity in the final scene in which Oedipus runs out on stage with gouged-out eyes. Naked, and literally covered in blood from head to toe, Rand stumbled out on stage and wailed of his misfortune. I can only imagine what level of professionalism and belief in performance an actor has to have to throw himself out on stage like that. Needless to say, this was the blood-cherry on top of the famished-stricken sundae of Thebes. I was impressed.
Oedipus Rex runs at the Stratford Festival until Sept. 16. For more information, please visit www.stratfordfestival.ca
photo credit: David Hou