If this is any indication of my new pilgrimage to take part in the Great Lakes Bay Region theatre scene, I’m very excited. Great plays, especially classic tragedies, are being produced too infrequently due to the continued commercialization of the theatre industry. When Oedipus is produced, and to boot, as well as this, there is no excuse not to see it.
The story opens on the fear stricken King who is suffering from the anxiety and paranoia of an unfavorable prophecy from the Oracle at Delphi. Throughout the play, each character is beckoned to disprove the prophecy and calm the King, some more successfully than others. Throughout the taut hour and a half play, the audience is taken on the emotional roller coaster in which the title character embarks.
Director Dr. Annette Thornton and the performers must be commended for the vocal work that was clearly put as a priority in the production. From the first syllable, the clarity and diction on display is reassuring that nothing will be lost in translation. I was equally impressed with the pace of the play, which only caught me looking at my watch once. The hour and a half flew by which is a kudos to the preparation and execution of the entire team.
Each performance was strong, with some proving more successful than others. The two men of royalty, Donald Owens III in the title role and Isaac Haviland as Creon left some to be desired which I can attribute more to a lack of age and experience than to a lack of or misused ability. I felt that his focus and manipulation of the vocal techniques that were impressively executed got in the way of his ability to explore the many emotional layers the role demands. That being said, he should still be applauded for commandeering the Herculean task of handling this role. Both actors displayed great potential which I look forward to continue to watch develop in future productions.
Bright spots amongst the supporting players include Isiah Barnes as Tiresias, who displayed the Soothsayers well worn wisdom and certainty with aplomb. Shawn M. Finney as the Messenger from Corinth displayed the best ability to connect his instrument with his emotions throughout the play. The most complete performance of the afternoon came from Nick Alfano, Caroline Jasin, Joel Linguar, Joannah Lodico, and Claudia Marsh whom made up the Chorus of Theban Elders. These five actors clearly understood the world in which they were living and their status amongst the class system. Completely in sync, they cowered in praise when other characters were onstage and flourished in perfect harmony when the stage was theirs to control.
For most of the production, I was conflicted as to whether the choice to perform in the round, instead of on a proscenium set, best served this iteration of the play. It wasn’t until a specific moment of storytelling for Jocasta (the queen) that I was convinced that the set served this story. Regardless, Adam Niemic designed a simple, visually appealing stage that paid homage to the traditional Greek performance space. Gina Love’s costumes are striking, providing a beautiful contrast between characters and telling a story all their own. I was thoroughly impressed by the intricacies in every mask and the delicate ornaments of every costume. Peter Ford’s lighting design was sometimes difficult to piece together, an element which would have been completely lost on me had I not read the director’s note before the performance.
The most effective piece of the puzzle that continually caught me off guard (in a great way) and grinning in delight due to its intricacies was the music for the production no doubt conceived by Dr. Thornton, sound designer Tom Randolph, and executed by Kai Johnson and Colin Mudie. I had the privilege of sitting without the percussionist in sight, and every time my heart was ready for a cue to punctuate the moment, the music rang through. The sound design for Oedipus is easily the most effective use of sound in a production I have seen in a long time.
Producing great classics is a huge risk, especially standards for the genre such as Oedipus. MCFTA should be applauded and supported simply on this basis, as you never know when a production of Oedipus will come around again. Anyone who considers themselves a patron of the arts has no excuse for not seizing the opportunity to appreciate works such as this, especially when the players and production staff have done their part.
Center Stage Theatre’s production of Oedipus the King will be on stage at Midland Center for the Arts Feb. 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.; and Feb. 18 and 25 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for students and are available at http://www.mcfta.org/event/oedipus-the-king-2/e24248/, at the Center Ticket Office or by calling 800-523-7649.