Susan Heyward and TJ Edwards
in The Oedipus Cycle
(© Bob Johnson)
Susan Heyward and TJ Edwards
in The Oedipus Cycle
(© Bob Johnson)
One could easily be a snob and look down one's nose at the cutting and consolidation that has created the world premiere of The Oedipus Cycle, which has just opened The Pearl Theatre Company's 25th anniversary season. A full 25 percent of Sophocles' texts for Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone have been lopped off, allowing for a relatively compact (three hours), one-stop-shopping presentation of this epic tale about a truly dysfunctional family. And ultimately, this flawed production is compelling mostly because Peter Constantine's translation and Shepard Sobel's direction move relatively swiftly through what used to be a lugubrious, repetitive text.

In the beginning of the trilogy, Oedipus learns from the oracle that he is destined to kill his father and sleep with his mother. He is so horrified that he flees from the King and Queen who raised him, not aware at all that they are not his natural parents. He then unknowingly kills his real father and marries his real mom, who hasn't a clue that she gave him birth. Only when fate intervenes does he learn the truth of his origins. The poor man's life unravels quickly. He gouges out his own eyes, while mom hangs herself.

The story continues years later with Oedipus as an old man wandering into Colonus with his loyal daughter, Antigone. Family strife continues with the former King's two sons warring for control of their homeland. Oedipus, bitter that both boys turned their backs on him, stays in Colonus, refusing to help either one. Once again a prophecy by the oracle comes true and more bloodshed befalls this unhappy family. In the third part, Antigone defies the law to follow a higher command and is condemned to death. This time, however, events flow more from hubris than from fate, making this final bloodbath more tragic in a Shakespearean sense rather than because it was decreed by the Gods.

The show's set design by Harry Feiner, effective in its simplicity, serves all three plays, and the costume design by Devon Painter is particularly noteworthy for doing so much on such a modest budget. Where this production runs into trouble is in the uneven acting of its eight-member cast, all of whom play multiple roles. The best in this troupe are TJ Edwards, who plays the elder Oedipus, and Dominic Cuskern, who uses his deep voice to excellent effect as the soothsayer Tiresias. Among the women in the cast, Jolly Abraham gives a solid, dignified performance as Antigone.

With this ambitious work, the company has provided contemporary audiences an opportunity to go back to the beginnings of the family drama. See The Oedipus Cycle on one evening, then take in August: Osage County the next. You can take the rest of your life to fill in everything between.