There aren’t many stories that have been around longer than the tragedy of Oedipus, a man who tried to escape fate but ran directly into it. The Greek playwright Sophocles’ version of the tale from 2,500 years ago is the most familiar, but the story has fascinated and horrified audiences for millennia.
A new version has been created by actress and writer Alison Vodnoy, a drama grad of UC’s College-Conservatory of Music now working regularly at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, where her script is onstage for several performances through May 16.
Darnell Benjamin, an actor with Know this season, plays the ill-fated king; Vodnoy handles all the other roles using simple but striking masks mounted on poles and a few costume elements (a red shawl to play Jocasta, Oedipus’s wife who he learns is also his mother, and a pair of dark glasses when she's Tiresias, a blind seer).
Vodnoy’s script reduces the telling to slightly less than an hour; the words have a sometimes rhyming, sometimes rapped, always jivey, contemporary poetic beat. While the story’s familiar elements remain, it’s played out in a more universal manner with some allusions to modern life in the form of panhandlers and the state of beggardom in which Oedipus finds himself at the play’s conclusion. He’s bereft and grasping, behaviors all too familiar and current on the streets just outside Know’s Over-the-Rhine performance space.
Petite Vodnoy populates the stage with a startlingly diverse array of characters and voices, while Benjamin is initially commanding as the proud king then horrified as he learns how his inescapable destiny has trapped him. His final despairing state is powerfully conveyed.
Their performances are strong, and the script could easily be part of the Fringe Festival that Know will produce a few weeks from now.
THE EYES OF OEDIPUS, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati in between its rotating repertory of Angels in America, will be onstage again Sunday as well as May 16.