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LA Theater Review

Oedipus El Rey

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Oedipus El Rey
Photo Source: Ed Kreiger
This could have been the way the Greeks saw Sophocles' play on its opening night. Told in their language and lingo, costumed in outfits of the day, the original would have resonated loudly and clearly. Luis Alfaro's version updates it imaginatively and poetically, while "showing" us more than "telling" us. He sets it in present-day California, transposing kingdoms to prisons and barrios, crossroads to California's Highway 99 where road rage precipitates the momentous patricide. Would this version play in Peoria? Well, would the original?

Jon Lawrence Rivera visualizes Alfaro's world as highly stylized yet remarkably real. The stage is black and steel with swaths of blood red (design by John H. Binkley), the action reaches into and above the audience. We are in prison with the chorus—here the coro—or on a hot, dusty road, or peeping with shock and a guilty sense of lasciviousness into Jocasta's bedroom. Rivera commendably keeps the nudity brief, as well as decorous thanks to thoughtful blocking and wise lighting (Jeremy Pivnick's design also includes stark prisons and Los Angeles sunshine). Someone was also clever enough to supply Jocasta with her weapon early on.

Astoundingly real and electrifying is the scene in which Oedipus and Jocasta "first" meet, after he is released from prison and looking for interim housing. The actors Justin Huen and Marlene Forte irresistibly compel us to feel the pair's heat. Equally memorable is an ode to fatherhood by the blind and always imprisoned Tiresias, delivered gracefully and tenderly by Winston J. Rocha. Making Laius burly and bossy, Leandro Cano is alternately regal and terrifying. Daniel Chacón delights as he makes Creon a bratty teen.

The prescient, opinionated coro of prisoners are Cano, Chacón, Rocha, Carlos Acuña, and Michael Uribes. A further chorus—of birdcalls and the agitated barking of dogs—is provided by Robert Oriol, along with his original guitar music of very bent, wailing notes.

This work might remind us why the Greeks developed and supported theater. Today, as film becomes more technologically advanced and less interested in storytelling, it's even more important that theater tell stories for our times and for always, being direct yet asking us to use our imaginations. To this production, we say thank you. Y gracias.


Presented by and at Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Feb. 27–March 28. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (626) 683-6883. www.bostoncourt.org.

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