For the first time in years, sororities and fraternities are not the only Greek life on campus. Next week, Sam Houston’s Mainstage will perform Ted Hughes’s version of the Greek play, Seneca’s Oedipus, the tale originally penned into play form by Sophocles.
An incestuous tale of woe, Oedipus is set in Thebes. The main character, Oedipus the king, attempts to discover the source of disease and misfortune in his kingdom. The seer Tiresias claims Oedipus himself is the reason for the country’s woes, but it isn’t until his supposed father Polybus dies that Oedipus learns his true birthright. Jocasta, the wife he won after slaying the preceding King of Thebes, Creon, is also his birth mother.
Typically in Greek drama, the audience is already familiar with the story. Because of this, the challenge for actors is to find a way to make the old story new and interesting. The actors put a lot of work into discovering their characters.
“I can see now why Greek tragedies are vital to a university education theater setting. We had to keep dramatic edge – there’s a lot of research to find the high intensity.” Aaron Thacker, who portrays the role of the seer Tiresias, said.
The story of Oedipus is an ancient classic, originally presented in amphitheaters with minimal sets and costumes. Greek tragedies are unlike modern drama in many ways, especially considering costumes and set design.
Rather than don togas with a minimalist stage, Mainstage decided to up the ante and add an organic twist to the story. The stage, reminiscent of a dusty mountainside*, takes the scenes back to the earth. Likewise, the wrapped costumes are more appropriate to the gritty, earthy feel.
“It’s very organic- very earthy. It’s stylized, but in a good way, and it feels cool,” Garret Storms, chorus member, said.
Plays like Oedipus, stylistically and with content, are harder for modern audiences to fully grasp. The language and style of the translation, in addition to the different physical presentation, make comprehension more difficult for the casual audience member.
“I think that with the classics and the Greeks, some people don’t get the concept, but can appreciate the work behind it, the history,” Kara Durrett, in the role of Jocasta, said.
Creating chemistry between characters, knowing the special relationship between Oedipus and Jocasta, is part of the challenge in presenting the play.
“We have good chemistry- our voices sound good together. The hard thing is the sexual chemistry onstage. I have to know she’s my mom,” Michael Keeney, in the role of Oedipus, said.
Durret agrees with this assessment.
“[Jocasta] is an intense character to have. There are two kinds of affection to think about- you never really know if she knows or not.”
Another characteristic of the classic plays is the role of the chorus. One set of lines played by multiple actors, the chorus adds a new dimension to the series of monologues by main characters.
“Their job is to re-enact the different events that have taken place throughout the show,” stage manager Nicole Wooddell said. “There are big descriptions and it’s their job to get it across through sight and sound.”
Mainstage’s interpretation of Oedipus is a classic story with a dirty and poetic twist.
“If this story really had occurred, I think this is more of what it would look like, the nitty-gritty version,” director Ron Destro said.
The play opens Wednesday September 26 at 8 p.m., and plays Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. Saturday will have a 2 p.m. matinee and an 8 pm performance. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for Sam students, and free for theater students.
For more information, visit the Theater webpage at http://www.shsu.edu/~drm_www.