Oedipus Rex – Review by Tom Holehan

So, you say you’re tired of yet another production of “a Midsummer Night’s Dream” or some silly musical or daffy comedy for your annual dose of live summer theatre? Well, how about a tale as old as the Greek myths? You know, the one about the king who kills his father and marries his mom and then, after mom kills herself, plunges daggers in his eyes as step one in the suicide process? Welcome to Sophocles’ classic Greek tale, “Oedipus Rex, now in an ambitious if not totally successful production at the new Legacy Theatre located in picturesque Stony Creek, Connecticut.

First the good news. The theatre is celebrating both an inaugural season and its recent renovation of the former (and beloved) Stony Creek Puppet House. The renovation is superb with plush seating augmenting a modern, intimate stage and interior. It’s a jewel of a playhouse and should see many years of success ahead. The company has already presented one-night performers, staged readings, an original musical, “Just Desserts” and a full production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” prior to their current offering.

“Oedipus Rex” is rarely produced for a reason. It’s difficult material with a complicated, convoluted and melodramatic plot that could produce giggles with the wrong approach. One might make the same argument of Shakespeare’s plays which is true, but Shakespeare’s language is far more poetic than the bald verse of “Oedipus Rex”. One can imagine an esteemed Shakespeare company or theatres like Yale and Hartford Stage tackling this challenging material with actors of stature and experience. At Legacy, under Keely Baisden Knudsen’s busy direction, the play is often odd, tonally, with an uneven company of ten actors. Two of those actors are members of Actors’ Equity: Mitchel Kawash, as the title king and Mariah Sage, as his wife, Jocasta. Kawash has the energy but not the authority for the leading role lacking the necessary gravitas; ultimately more petulant than commanding. Sage fares better in a role of mixed emotions and diverting motivations. She does work well with Kawash and his most compelling scenes are with her.

Director Knudsen seems to think her audience needs more help than necessary with stage business that slowly becomes repetitive instead of illuminating. “Important” line readings are hammered home with chorus members displaying slim red banners with the line printed on it while the same line is projected on an upstage wall. Another character tells a story with a shadow play demonstration on the far right wall and, later in the play, those red banners are employed again for Oedipus’ bloody eyes. Luckily she has excellent support from her technical staff beginning with Jamie Barnett’s most effective set and lighting design, Katya Vetrov’s excellent costumes and Adam Jackson’s ethereal and moving sound design.

One must credit this young company for their adventurous spirit in tackling material during a summer season that would prove daunting even for far more established theatres. It makes one look forward to their next project, a contemporary two-character musical, “The Last Five Years”. This promises to be an ideal fit for the beautiful new showcase in Stony Creek.

“Oedipus Rex” continues at the Legacy Theatre through August 22. For ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.315.1901 or visit online at: www.legacytheatreCT.org.