at the Odyssey Theatre
This is a complex play—in structure, theme, and content. Its plot is simple: A group of actors mounts a production of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. Two single women, a gay actor, a tensely married couple, and a Yugoslav expat interact in and out of the rehearsal room. Love and politics make strange, mysterious, endlessly absorbing, eternally problematic bedfellows.
"You'll never stop me from finding the truth," says Oedipus. But in Craig Lucas' Small Tragedy the lies and veiled jealousies and repressed passions are as shattering as any the ancient Greeks dramatized. Even while ethnic cleansings swirl around us, we focus on filling our daily needs—and not always adeptly. Directed by John Perrin Flynn, the work is a heightened, for the most part quick-paced, disturbing look at ourselves. Despite the play's themes of deception—evolving on a clever small, stark set (Alexander Enberg)—the actors play out the daily lives of their actor roles with shattering honesty and dig into their Grecian roles with enough but not too much skill. The dialogue overlaps, sometimes three conversations going on at once. Flynn may prompt us to listen to one more than others, or he may let us decide among them.
Bill Brochtrup plays the director, a humble and relatively competent artist, whom Brochtrup realistically fleshes with sweetness and a flash of temper. The director's wife and collaborator is played by Hollace Starr, consistently surprising in her character's shifts, subtly revealing festering unhappiness. Michael Redfield plays the naive gay actor in a sympathetic, heart-on-sleeve rendering. With high skill and a touch of humor, Rochelle Greenwood gives us a rather lazy actor who is not highly skilled but who certainly sees through people and sticks by her convictions. Deidrie Henry enriches the desperate-for-love actor, who will oedipally turn a blind eye to lies so that she can be "happy." And in a spellbinding performance, Steve Cell plays the Yugoslav, great as Oedipus but even more brilliant as a disturbing, probably pathological liar.
This is not a perfect script, but its messages are powerfully delivered and remain haunting. That in relationships we might not fully know each other until it's too late, that we may marry in haste and repent at leisure, may be our American tragedy. It's not a small one.
Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Wed. 8 p.m. Feb. 7, 21, 28, and Mar. 7. Sun. 7 p.m. only Jan. 28, Feb. 25, Mar. 25, and Apr. 1.) Jan. 27-Apr. 1. (310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies