Reviewed by Victor Gluck
Presented by the National Theater of Greece at City Center Theater, W. 55 St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves., NYC, Oct. 4-8.
When the most exciting scene in Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" is the one between the Messenger and the Attendant, something is very wrong. Vassilis Papassileiou's production for The National Theater of Greece was conceived for outdoor performance in the round at Rome's Colosseum. It did not transfer very well to the proscenium stage of New York's City Center.
Yorgos Ziakas' distracting designs did not help. The stage was draped in black, with a small raked ramp center stage, where all the cramped action took place. Scattered on both sides of the ramp were white plaster casts of people in modern dress resembling George Segal sculptures. The actors all wore modern Greek outfits, except for long cloaks in solid colors. Why put Creon, Oedipus's brother-in-law, in yellow? The chorus, wearing half-face masks, was entirely in white, including sneakers.
Vassilis Papavassileiou's modern Greek translation (explained with supertitles) appeared to have a great deal of padding, because the evening was two hours and five minutes, not the usual 90 minutes. The first hour had no tension whatever. Oedipus and his court could have been discussing traffic violations. Actors entered, took a position, and stood stock still, without even any hand gestures. This was probably necessary in the ruins of the Colosseum.
In the title role, Grigoris Valtinos showed no emotion until the final scene. Then his final monologue went on so long that he resembled an opera diva with a mad scene. Jenny Gaitanopoulou's Jocasta was better, but never suggested royalty. Stephanos Kyriakidis as Creon had no discernible interpretation whatever. Best were the comic Messenger from Corinth played by Yannis Rozakis, and the Shepherd, formerly the royal attendant, acted with rising terror by Iakovos Psarras. "Oedipus Rex" is generally considered the world's greatest play, but this pallid revival did not do it justice.