American Players Theatre: Oedipus

Yes this is the classic Greek play. Yes Sophocles is alive and well. But director David Daniel did an amazing and masterful job in his adaptation of the play to appeal to 21st Century audiences without losing any of the angst and gravitas of the original!

Here the poetry flows more smoothly and recognizable to the modern ear. And Mr. Daniel’s clever insertions of the vernacular and current adages brings out an audience chuckle or two and balances out some of the weight of the story.

I will sit here quietly while you stamp and shout

And Mr. Daniel’s Greek chorus is more limber and interactive and helps guide us along through the story! Thank them for that…and their solo interjections and asides provide a few insights we might not catch without their help!

Gavin Lawrence is a masterful Oedipus and he plays against the image that the chorus provides of their king that we too are as befuddled by his confusion as are they. The fearful man who rants about the stage in a way unbecoming to the king we expected…and Mr. Lawrence makes us totally forget the clear level headed man we thought would take charge!

Creon, Oedipus’ brother in law and uncle, is played by a very regal and earnest Corey Jones…who clearly is undone by the ranting Oedipus. Of course he is working with knowledge of only half the story that the rest of use are privy too. But Mr. Jones holds his character up and plays the loyal, honest, royal personage to the last!

Left: Sun Mee Chomet as Jocasta, center Gavin Lawrence as Oedipus, right Ted Deacy as the Corinthian. Screen capture by Ed Heinzelman

And the most in control on center stage is Creon’s sister and the mother/wife of Oedipus, Jocasta, as played by Sun Mee Chomet . At first regal with a bit of haughty, she puts both Creon and Oedipus in their place. Ms. Chomet makes her character believable and forceful and makes clear attempts to hide her vulnerability until the truth is revealed.

Perhaps the most effective character in this adaptation is La Shawn Banks as the blind prophet, Tiresias. He stays the course in the face of an angrier and angrier Oedipus as he introduces the story line that will eventually unravel the fairy tale that is Thebes and destroy the king but will cure the plague and all other ills that are destroying the city.

And my personal favorite? Ted Deasy as the Corinthian messenger who believes that he is bringing good (but sad) news and is happy to tell his stories since he has no knowledge of the consequences to Oedipus, Jocasta, or Thebes. On one hand the most entertaining and the other the most congenial character in the play.

the Greek Chorus; photo courtesy of the American Players Theatre

I am sorry that this response is so late in the play’s run. I watched this via the At Home streaming option and because of technical difficulties it wasn’t available until this past Monday…and I couldn’t get to it until yesterday. The live version runs at the American Player Theatre’s Hill Theatre through tomorrow October 9, 2021. And because of the technical difficulties with the streaming version, that will now be available through October 24th! Information on the play is here and ticket information is here!

And please leave comments after reading this post. If you are a first time commenter I will have to approve your post before it will appear! But you will be good to go in the future!

So ends what I am calling APT’s 2021 Greek Triad with An Iliad and A Phoenix Too Frequent!

American Players Theatre: Christopher Fry’s A Phoenix Too Frequent

When you first read parts of the American Players Theatre description of Christopher Fry’s A Phoenix Too Frequent, you feel you might be about to experience a challenging tragic drama:

In ancient Greece, Dynamene is prepared to die from grief over the death of her husband and has barricaded herself, fasting, in his tomb. She has brought her faithful servant along to die with her (a plan that said servant is not 100% on board with).

But I have taken that entirely out of context and Christopher Fry has instead provided us with a witty understated comedy that plays off classic sources from Homer to Sophocles to of course, Shakespeare! Instead we find ourselves roaming from troubled to amused to relieved…as the somber circumstances play out via Fry’s immaculate verse…to the captivating human interaction…laced with humor in character definition, an absurd situation, and his carefully manipulated clever English! It’s all a delight until the crisis appears when all seems lost. But as with most classics, there is a deus ex machina of sorts and life and love prevail. So that covers the play…but again from the APT:

Here we have the classic “boy-meets-girl, boy-dies, girl-meets-handsome-soldier-in-the-first-boy’s-tomb-while- waiting-to-die-with-her-faithful-servant” story. It may sound ridiculous. And it is. But youth is often a ridiculous ride, and it’s hard to be hopeless for long when you’re on it. Feel free to laugh with them as they attempt to find their way in the literal dark, with a bellyful of wine and all the earnest, wobbly assurance of people dealing with death just as they’re learning to live life. Quirky and Greeky and oh so funny, with a deceptively deep story, this one promises a delightful time

screen capture by Ed Heinzelman: we need darker vowels

Now our story revolves around just three characters: our widow, Dynamene played by Phoebe Gonzalez, her handmaiden, Doto played by Tyler Meredith, and our handsome stranger, the soldier, Tegeus played by Christoper Sheard. These three weave the words into actions that tell the story with complete awareness of the absurdity of the situation and cleanly emphasize the humor in the text. Director Keira Fromm has them interacting in and around the minimal stage with a certain grace…even during the various crises and entanglements shall we say. It works on every level and certainly invites us to stay engaged with the players, the story. and the action. And of course the emphasis on the humor seems invisible until it subtly reaches our conscious funny bone.

And the minimal stage couldn’t be better suited to the action, the deceased’s crypt, benches, and the entrance are all clearly defined and perfectly appropriate to an undisclosed but clearly ancient Greece. Thank you Jeffrey Kmiec! And the blue lighting was dramatic, ethereal, and unobtrusive all at the same time. Something that I wouldn’t have ever considered….so thank you, Jesse Klug!

Tylelr Meredith as Doto: photo courtesy of the American Players Theatre

The opening scene quickly introduces us to the world weary and street smart Doto who gets a lot of the early laughs and chuckles as she lays out her predicament. All worked around a restlessly sleeping Dynamene (how Ms. Gonzalez manages to do this without laughing is funny in itself…Ms. Meredith get a similar ‘respite’ later but gets to do it out of sight of most of the audience instead of center stage! ). So you want to feel for Doto right away and it is a great deal of fun to listen to the rather unique English she employs and the street cred she exhibits when Tegeus ‘bursts’ on the scene! Bravo Ms. Meredith!

Christopher Sheard as Tegeus, Phoebe Gonzales as Dynamene; photo courtesy of American Players Theatre.

And the pas de deux between Dynamene and Tegeus is magic. Not only the language but the dance itself as they struggle to engage and keep their distance and engage while moving about the set. There isn’t even a more convincing scene in Shakespeare! The timing, looks, leers, restraint, and finally surrender to love all works to perfection. Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. Sheard amplify those emotions without our noticing any effort and with our full approval. And it makes the coming crisis that more shocking and poignant when it comes. I won’t discuss it any further.

Given the feel of the poetry, the period, the geography, and the story, this is plainly a ‘classical piece’, and more appropriate to this season in particular as it follows a similarly toned and previously presented Iliad and the other current production of Sophocles Oedipus. This seems like a prime central focal point of a ‘Greek’ triad!

A Phoenix Too Frequent runs through October 3, 2021 and tickets are available for the in person presentations at the Touchstone Theatre or to stream online!

left to right: Christopher Sheard as Tegeus, Phoebe Gonzalez as Dynemene, and Tyler Merideth as Doto; screen capture by Ed Heinzelman

you fall easily into superlatives…

Ready For More American Players Theatre? Two Additional Offerings For Fall!

Beyond their original summer season: The American Players Theatre Announces Its Live Summer Season: The Road Back, there are two additional fall plays to enjoy.

At the outdoor Hill Theatre, you can see Oedipus by Sophocles performed from an adaptation by director David Daniel. Oedipus will run from September 17 – October 9.

For the first time in decades, we welcome to our Hill one of the great Greeks – an infamous murder mystery that has riveted audiences around the world and across time. But Oedipus is not a story that can be defined by its final act, shocking though that act might be. Poetic and profound, it is in many ways the story of us; about how the people we love carry us from bad times to good, and sometimes back again. And at its heart, an extraordinary hero – flawed like we all are flawed, yet brave enough to do what he must to protect his community. Even if it means his undoing. It’s a rare gift to see the Greeks outside under the stars, as they were meant to be seen. Rarer still to witness one that was conjured just for this place; built from decades of the energy that flows from this community. From you, our audience. We are because you are.

And at the indoor Touchstone Theatre, APT will be presenting their second Shakespeare play of the season, The Taming of the Shrew! Taming will run October 14 – November 14 and is directed and has been adapted to a five actor presentation by Shana Cooper.

Ah, the tale of Kate and Petruchio, and how each cracked the code to the other’s ferociously defended heart. It’s a Shakespearean rabble-rouser, held up as the ultimate battle of the sexes. But look closer, and you’ll discover a lively satire about how society tries to bend this couple into shapes they’re simply not built for. Cheer them on as they shatter everyone’s absurd expectations. After all, their dramatic (and often uproarious) journey toward love isn’t just entertaining. It’s revolutionary. A wild and theatrical adaptation featuring the famously combative couple, with three other incredible actors playing Bianca to Baptista, and every ridiculous role in between.

and as always, to see and read more about the American Players Theatre, CLICK HERE!