Oedipus el Rey earns a standing ovation at the Magic Theatre.

OEDIPUS EL REY: Drama adapted from the Greek legend by Luis Alfaro. Directed by Loretta Greco. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA. (415) 441-8822 or www.MagicTheatre.org.  May 29 – June 23, 2019

Oedipus el Rey earns a standing ovation at the Magic Theatre. Rating: ★★★★★

Magic Theatre’s renews its love affair with Luis Alfaro by staging this “legacy” performance of his seminal play Oedipus el Rey 10 years after the world premiere at the same venue and again directed by Loretta Greco.  Alfaro utilizes the Greek structure and storyline bringing it into modern times setting the action in a Los Angeles Latinx bario and California prison.  His chorus (Coro in this play) is prisoners clad in orange jump shirts and display multiple body tattoos. They circle the bare center stage where the action is to begin always suggesting confinement and fatalism.

When that action does start it is the beginning of the inexorable events that keeps you riveted waiting for the inevitable?  A male baby is born to Laius and wife Jocasta but the blind seer Tiresias tells Laius that this son is destined to kill his father. In fear Larius scars the bottom of the baby’s feet not wanting him to “follow him into the afterlife.”  That baby lives and is Oedipus who grows up in the barrio with no religion and life of crime landing him in jail as young man thus knowing only the injustice of the barrio and prison.

Oedipus earns an early release and soon after in a road rage kills Larius and becomes titular “New” King of the barrio where he allies with major drug dealer Creon, brother to the widowed Jocasta that we know will be his downfall. When Oedipus and Jocasta meet he describes his innate feelings of a special bond between them. He is virginal. They spend three months in bed together and eventually marry.  Events unfold that lead to the devastating scene of self-mutilation blinding.

The story is symbolic of Latinx life with confinement in the barrio and prison being the facts of life. This harsh environment is wrapped in Alfaro’s cryptic yet poetic language that is embraced by all the actors and magnified by Greco’s brilliant direction.  Alafaro injects humor by defining the prophets as wise owls depicted by hand puppets used by members of the Coro.

Even though there is juxtaposition of philosophy, violence and everyday life Greco teams with the author keeping all in balance with each layer adding to the next from the prophetic birth to the seduction scene and the penultimate blinding all playing out on the symbolic bleak blank stage. Alfaro removes the bleakness with a hopeful codicil that begins as it all started in the confines of prison. There is the click, click , click of Tiresias’ and Oedipus’ walking sticks that collide on center stage with anger replaced by hopefulness as the Coro stating: “Yet in the end. .. I didn’t like him. . . Arrogant. . . Impatient . . . (a Beat) eventually . . . His story is our story. . . or are we doomed to repeat them?” “Roam in his memories .  . Pero, for now. . let him be free.”

The actors fully understand Alfaro’s take on this Greek Tragedy with the Coro doubling as individual characters.  In the lead roles of Oedipus and Jocasta portrayed by Esteban Carmona and Lorraine Velez are unique yet fit in with the over-all  harshness of those around them. You can feel Laius’ (Armando Rodriguez) fear and fury as he meets Odeipus in the bloody road rage scene. Local favorite Sean San Jose envelopes the role of Tiresias and blends in perfectly in his other characterizations.  Creon played by Gendell Hing-Hernandez morphs from the protector of his sister Jocasta to the enraged barrio drug dealer begrudgingly  accepting Oedipus’ the new King.

The creative team is to be admired for their unique addition to the totality of this superb production with an added accolade for Jacquelyn Scott’s tattoo designs.

CAST: Esteban Carmona as “Oedipus”, Lorraine Velez as “Jocasta”, Sean San José as “Coro”, Juan Amador as “Coro”,  Armando Rodriguez as “Coro”, and Gendell Hing-Hernandez as “Coro.”  

CREATIVE TEAM: Hana Kim (Scenic/Projection Design); Ulises Alcala (Costume Design); Wen-Ling Liao, (Lighting Design); Jake Rodriguez (Sound Design);  Amanda Marshall (Stage Manager); Sonia Fernandez (Dramaturg); Libby Martinez (Props Design)

Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission and it is a must see production.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com