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Wednesday, February 9,2011

Triumphing with a tragedy

Williamston Theatre’s outstanding ’Oedipus’ demands to be seen

by UTE VON DER HEYDEN

“This is a story about darkness. The story of a king — no — of a man. A story about the dangers of being human — of being flawed. This is a story about truth. This is the story."


With these opening lines, Williamston Theatre proceeds to take the ancient art of storytelling and turn it into its own new adventure with an 80-minute, no-intermission, small-cast retelling of Sophocles’ great Greek tragedy, “Oedipus.”


Perfectly supporting the production’s guiding principle of storytelling is the rearranged seating of the already intimate Williamston space to create a theater-inthe-round. This allows the actors to move effortlessly among the audience and to speak directly to them, thereby making the audience citizens of Thebes.


“Oedipus” is the story of a mystical king of Thebes who is brought down by destiny and his own pride and stubbornness.


Despite desperate measures to escape his fate, he fulfills a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, and brings disaster on himself, his family and city.


In this production, the Williamston cast is working with a new adaptation of “Oedipus,” written over a six-month period by Michigan playwright Annie Martin and director Tony Caselli. Their writing is crisp and contemporary (but not too contemporary), and they succeed in making this 2,500-year-old epic tale as personal and accessible as it can be. Some of the self-serving lines in Oedipus’ speeches to his “constituents” may even remind you of some of our own political leaders.


The writing gets bogged down only in the overlong scene between Oedipus and Jocasta’s brother, Creon, when Oedipus wrongly becomes convinced that
Creon is plotting to usurp his throne. This results in some tedious
police interrogation-type dialogue that loses the audience for a short
time.


John M. Manfredi plays Oedipus with an unwavering, chilling arrogance, flavored with an unexpected bit of modern cosmopolitan flair. His passion and intensity along with a focused control of voice and body make this a star performance. In the harrowing scene when the beaten Oedipus blinds himself with his wife’s hairpins, Manfredi makes the play’s famous scream so new and real that one suspends breathing.


The other cast members — Sandra Birch, Barton Bund, Brandon Piper and Jamie Weeder — are also excellent. Birch as Oedipus’ mother/wife, Jocasta, and as the blind seer, Teiresias, carries a particularly heavy load but makes it look effortless. The look of horror on her face will haunt you.


Both Bund and Piper are attention-getters in their multiple roles, and cellist/ actor Weeder is a dramatic addition who has important lines but needs to speak them louder as she often could not be heard on opening night.


The simple set by Daniel C. Walker with its brilliant use of long, rectangular panels of fabric, the functional and comfortable-looking costumes created by Holly Iler, and the dramatic lighting design by Dana L. White all become parts of one body, moving the play ever forward.


And it’s clear that guiding all this is Caselli’s steady hand, obviously held open to allow his cast and crew all the freedom they needed to tell a story. This story.


The Williamston Theatre people know that they have entered a brave new world with this show. This is not their usual fare and it may take some active word-of-mouth to fill houses.


But this is a play that should be seen.


’Oedipus’


Through
Feb. 20 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 3 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 10; Saturday, Feb. 19 Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam
St., Williamston $24 Fridays and Saturday evenings, $20 Saturday
matinees and $18 Thursdays.


(517) 655-7469 www.williamstontheatre.com


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