The age-old story of Oedipus Rex told through the eyes of Sam Shepard is a dark-gritty and somewhat gruesome play worth seeing in New York right now at the Griffin Theatre (housed in the Signature Theatre on 42nd st.). Directed by Stephen Rea, who also plays the lead, Seamus Deane. This particular production is made up of an entire troupe of Irish actors and is sure to entice anyone that enjoys a healthy serving of Sophocles in a modern story-telling fashion.
Upon arrival, you take your seat in the quaint theatre that holds about 200 and you can’t help but be entranced with the ceiling to floor white-tiled stage, it’s Oedipus meets Saw II or American Psycho. The lights come up on an older gentleman mopping the floor stained in blood, with blood drenched clothing and rubber apron, as a butcher labored from a long day of slaughter. We watch Stephen Rea, Oedipus/Otto, grapple with the memory of a murder and his dazed akin to it. He is confused and baffled, and speaks in a dissonant poetic manner, “mystery, dissolution, full of fear”. Like the Greek tragedy, Rea is maimed on his left foot (this one is larger than the other with a slight limp) similarly from the original story, his father bound his feet and left him for dead in the desert as a baby in order to avoid a tragic prophecy. Later in the play he is speaking with his daughter about his confused fate, further, his short-comings as a father and the demons that follow him, all while ringing out strips of cloth, in a bucket full of watered-down blood. As an audience member, you cannot help but notice that their dialogue is about fertility and the lack there of in his daughter, “you’re better off barren” he says which resembles the speech of Luke in the Bible, “blessed are the barren”. Ideas such as these bring us from the modern interpretation right back to the fact that this is a Greek tragedy pre-dating biblical New Testament ideas, nonetheless still carrying the themes of lineage, birth right, and the potential difference between fate and free will.
As Rea, hangs up the pieces of blood stained clothing and long bits of rope, we notice that the resemblance to body parts and intestines are undeniable. Death, gloom, and infertility are inevitably looming. While these themes are just as evident in ‘A Particle of Dread’ as the original story of Oedipus, we begin to ask ourselves, ‘what is different’?
There is no evidence actually of royal blood, an oracle, and the murder weapon is a car. He runs over the victim “17 times” says the detective on the case. The entire play is also scored by a cello, which only adds to the haunting mood of the piece. At times the play can be difficult to follow because it is non-sequential, however this can be seen as the most unique choice by the playwright… it states a clear and vivid message to the audience, Oedipus’ fate can be jumbled up in terms of story telling and staging but the fact still remains, his fate still takes him from A to B.