Sophocles on the Streets

This week is weird, but I saw a really nifty play two weeks ago so even though it wasn’t in the plan, I’d like to share my review of it. Enjoy!

There is always an element of risk when attending a theatrical workshop performance. How complete will it be? Has it moved past the staged reading phase or is it to be a performance with little in the way of production values? Will it even make sense? These questions could make even a seasoned theatre patron wary of spending a few hours at the theatre, but sometimes a workshop performance exhibits more than a bare bones concept. Sometimes you get a diamond in the rough.

Oglethorpe University’s theatre department and Georgia Shakespeare, the professional theatre company in residence, joined forces to create a musical adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus, entitled blind.Ed. Richard Garner, artistic director of Georgia Shakespeare, along with professional artists Neal A. Ghant, Eugene H. Russell IV, and Jahi Kearse, lead the creative team that has been planning for over a year with the goal of having a finished product to show in the fall of Georgia Shakespeare’s 2013 season. The collaboration with Oglethorpe University afforded both groups a unique opportunity: Oglethorpe theatre students were able to work with a group of professional artists, learn about devising and workshopping an original adaptation, and have input in the development of a professional work, while the Georgia Shakespeare team was provided with a creative space to actively experiment and craft the play, a crucial resource that is typically unavailable until much later in the creative process. The adaptation they have created is just as unique as its origins.

Blind.Ed finds its musical inspiration in the hip-hop and rhythm and blues genres, lending an urban, edgy quality to the piece. This approach is surprisingly effective with the source material as the play is presented in a combination of song, rap, and traditional spoken dialogue. The content of the piece is obviously updated from Sophocles’ words, but the choice to infuse the performance with these rhythmic elements evokes the classic text, originally written in verse, and ancient performance concepts of the group-speaking Chorus, call and response, and chanting. In the storytelling there was little surprise for a well-versed audience member as the plot closely adheres to the original Oedipus story, but it was not without fault. Though sticking to the original plot can be important when adapting a well known work, the artist must walk a line between plot fidelity and the ease and clarity with which the story can be transposed into a new setting, especially when the shift is as radical as it is with blind.Ed. The Oedipus story was told in its entirety, but issues that plague the classic text seemed to bleed into the interpretation, primarily in a lack of efficiency in the language. A complaint about classic theatre, especially translations of ancient work, is that it is difficult to wade through all of the information because of the complicated verbage. For a studied patron these plays might not be too confounding because they are known, but if the same lingual flaws are placed in an unknown setting, the audience might find it a bit Greek. Blind.Ed, even with its updated language, suffers from a lack of streamlining in the information provided and the words chosen to relay it. This is not a deal breaker, however, as we must keep in mind that it is a workshop production performed with the first iteration of the script, and even with these issues there are strong choices in the piece. Many of these choices are not pulled from the source material and though they do not alter the plot, they amplify aspects of it in interesting ways. One of the more striking choices was to have three actresses play the Fates. They spoke prophecies like an echo and sat weaving – and cutting – threads throughout the performance, highlighting the importance of fate in the story.

The performance itself was exemplary. There was a true sense of ensemble connection within the cast as they worked the stage with a focused realism that held the audience in constant connection with the emotion of the piece. Pristine harmonies and precise rhythms dominated the musical aspects of the production and the directorial and design choices brought themes to life in new ways. Though unfinished, the work that was crafted in those five weeks is inspiring. Garner’s team is on to something something new and exciting that will be make a musty classic relatable in ways that many would not have thought possible. Urban, raw, and real, Ed will take Atlanta by storm next October.


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