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Oedipus the King

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One of the reasons I don't like classical theater is because it's really just soap opera about royalty. Since most of this stuff was written when we thought sovereigns were crowned by God(s), the melodramatic storylines were considered mythic tales of epic proportions. But the theater of Western Civilization would be radically different if the people in these plays, instead of doing each other dirt, had to wash their own underpants.

You can't get more royal, more epic or, in truth, more soap-operatic than Oedipus the King, by Sophocles. I hope I'm not giving anything away by telling you it's about a king who kills his father and marries his mother; toss in some amnesia and an evil twin brother and it could be Days of Our Theban Lives.

The Pittsburgh Public Theater presents the W.B. Yeats translation of Oedipus ... and, given what I said above, no one is more surprised than me that I had such an interesting time. Oedipus isn't done a lot (at least not as much as he's done by his wife/mother ... heh, heh, heh), and I do believe this is the first time I've actually seen this play in performance.

And in performance, Oedipus plays out almost as a detective story. Thebes is struggling through horrible times which, a seer explains, is because the gods have cursed the city. And for the next 70 minutes, everyone tries to figure why. There's no down time in Oedipus; Sophocles moves swiftly from clue to clue to clue until the big climax. I was also captivated by the look of the production. James Noone's set is stunning, and David R. Zyla's costumes are both contemporary and classic.

Drawing uniformly strong, precise performances from his entire cast, led by Jay Stratton, Helena Ruoti, Michael McKenzie and Edward James Hyland (Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon and Seer, respectively), director Ted Pappas drives the show with the same single-minded purpose as Sophocles. It's incorrect to say the production is without variety because, in truth, it's written that way; this is a relentless, aggressive and loud version of a relentless, aggressive and loud play.

I think if it had gone on five minutes longer than its 70 minutes, it would have all been too much. But as it stands, Oedipus is a highly compelling piece of theater.

Oedipus the King continues through Oct. 29. Pittsburgh Public Theatre, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412/316-1600.
  • Oedipus the King continues through Oct. 29. Pittsburgh Public Theatre, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412/316-1600.

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