Review: Oedipus the King
“Killed by fate.”
There is no story more damning to the gods than “Oedipus Rex”, the Sophoclean tome full of riddles, mythological creatures and crusty providences about a man destined to kill his father and bed his mother.
Set in the City of Thebes, a lucky Oedipus is King. He’s left his home to avoid familial ruin, only to find the gods a-smiling down on him. He replaces Thebes’ previous king as ruler and takes the queen as his wife and together they make two adoring daughters.
That was yesterday. Now, a plague has befallen Oedipus’ beloved town and to lift it, he must find the scoundrel responsible for the previous king’s murder, whom the gods and oracles and seers and shepherds all warn against. In discovering the source of Thebes’ blight and unravelling the mystery of his own fortune, Oedipus demonstrates the wicked stronghold fate has on a single life—
—in the traditional version.
Add an extra dash of megalomania, some fake news and disposable masks and you’ve got Kansas City Public Theatre’s contemporary presentation, “Oedipus the King” now playing in Theis Park.
Starring a solid, strong-presenced Jake Golliher as this Oedipus— a self-involved, hard-headed Trumpian figure, KC Public Theatre’s “Oedipus” zones in on the political underpinning of the play and of the world’s most recent battle with aspiring dictators in a pandemic playground.
This mindful interpretation captures how immediate our collective knowledge is on what it means to live through a plague, especially when that plague is blind devotion to one symbol of political power.
In the center of the outdoor amphitheater, a raised circular stage supports the rantings of this didactic oligarch. At his feet, circle the pride of Thebes. Citizens who adore him while simultaneously spilling the beans on the drama. Something like media, both social and traditional.
Great consideration of the space is made as the players employ bold gestures, expanding and contracting, movement and depth of field to populate the world, to give it form.
The set is minimal. Art from Kansas City community members depicting their response to our COVID year suggests a broken Thebes and fearful Thebans. The players further connect the present with the original text by wearing protective gear and street clothes.
How nuts is it that every choral performance is in perfect synch even as the chorus players double as named characters? Shea Ketchum is fierce with her fiery curls and power presence. She’s the Second Messenger. Margaret Shelby is agile in a swaying turn as Tiresias. Emmy Panzica-Piontek brings a bit of humor and, albeit brief, lightheartedness to “Oedipus”. Kitty Corum is commanding in her role as Priest. Creon is a character of levelheadedness and unbelievable compassion. Terraye Watson, an actor of sturdy physical stature and gentle voice, is suitably cast.
Two performances rock the stage. The famed nymph of every boy’s psychological nightmare, Oedipus’ wife, Jocasta gets a stirring treatment by one of Kansas City’s rising stars, Lanette King. That golden voice is a lasso whipping every line into shape. And Oedipus too.
Jerry Mañan, with the help of the chorus, thunders in a short, but mighty performance as Shepherd.
The bit of call-and-response further binds us to the world that teeters between past and very present. The waterfall behind the set, the sky fading from light to dark, headlights from vehicles on the road and the wind rushing through add a magnificent environmental element that cannot be accounted for or duplicated.
During this performance, as Oedipus retells and reenacts a memory when there were no survivors, except one who got away, a bike rider rode the trail behind the stage and as she looked over her shoulder at the dramatic action, she almost appeared to be that fleeing survivor.
That is the true magic of this show. It will be all yours. Not once will it be fully reproducible. Only the gods will decide your fate.
Executive Artistic Director: Elizabeth Bettendorf Bowman
Directed & Adapted by: Dr. Nathan Bowman
Players: Jake Golliher, Lanette King, Emmy Panzica-Piontek, Margaret Shelby, Terraye Watson, Jerry Mañan, Kitty Corum + Shea Ketchum
Production Notes: “Oedipus the King” plays June 17-19 7:30pm and June 24-26 7:30pm
This public performance will include post show discussions with invited city leaders. “Arts in Times of Crisis” held June 19 and 26 at 7pm
June 19 Featured Speakers: Kimi Kitada (CSF Curatorial Fellow), MO Rep. Emily Weber, Damron Russel Armstrong (Black Repertory Theatre), MO Sen. Lauren Arthur, Maite Salazar (Writer, Activist) and MO Senator Barbara Anne Washington
Theis Park Amphitheater
Kansas City, MO 64110
South of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Tickets: General Admission is FREE at the gate
Reserve a space (up to 4 people) $100
Reserve a space (up to 2 people) $50
Reserve your space at www.kcpublictheatre.org
Masks must be worn while not sitting in your assigned area. Each area is marked and adheres to CDC social distancing guidelines. Seating capacity is limited. KCPublic Theatre is certified “ArtSafe” by the Missouri Arts Council and our safely plan has been approved by Kansas City Parks and Recreation. View the entire COVID-19 Safety Plan at www.kcpublictheatre.org