Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review - A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)

Earlier this fall, I was at my favorite spot, the Signature Theater, taking a tour of the space for a possible special event rental for my job.  When I was there, I saw a postcard of the new Sam Shepard play and saw that the postcard said "tickets on sale tomorrow."  I immediately texted a handsome chum and said we had to get tickets.  Because my handsome chum is also a gem, he immediately secured our tickets.  We've had them for ever so long and last night was finally the night we saw A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations).

In the back of my mind, I knew that this play didn't get stellar reviews, but I didn't care.  It's a new Sam Shepard play!  Starring Stephen Rea (who I've never seen onstage before)!  Plus I was going with a handsome chum!  What could go wrong?!  Well, nothing actually.  I had a lovely evening.  No, I don't think this is a great play, but I think that something occasionally-interesting-but-maybe-not-so-completely-great by Sam Shepard is still better than a lot of stuff out there...

Given that Shepard has dabbled in high and low poetry in much of his work over the years, I'm actually surprised it's taken him so long to do this kind of piece.  As the title suggests, there are 'variations' on the theme of Oedipus, along with representations of the actual Oedipus story.  The variations even include a musical score, played underneath to emphasize the mood.

The variations/stories/scenes don't play chronologically, or even make much sense from scene to scene, but cumulatively, it does add up to something intriguing.  Maybe more intellectually intriguing as a dramatic exercise than as a full theatrical experience, but intriguing nonetheless.  I especially enjoyed the ideas that Shepard throws out about how these kinds of stories are as old as time, yet still happen now.  There was a quality that the stories were happening then, happening now and will happen again.  I liked that.  How hubris and rage and revenge aren't antiquated ideas, but things we as humans still struggle with today.  That was compelling to me.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy
I also thought the acting was quite good, especially Stephen Rea, who has a visceral sense of groundedness about him, whether he was playing Oedipus, a variation of Oedipus or just an idea.  He was wonderfully layered, with a lot of rage and pain, arrogance and conceit.  I really liked him.  Lloyd Hutchinson was creepy and magnetic as different versions of the seer Tiresias; I also liked Aidan Redmond as King Laius, or the Vegas kingpin, or the descendant of either.  I thought he brought a nice touch of vulnerable arrogance, which isn't easy to pull off.  I found the ladies less successful, but oh well.  I didn't really understand the set, which looked like a mental hospital, or much of the highly stylized staging, but I can say I was never bored - I might've been confused or frustrated, but never bored - and I was always intrigued with what would come next.    I just don't think that what often came next was always successful.  But, hey, who am I?  I just read today that a revival of Fool for Love will be coming to Broadway next year.  I am really looking forward to that: as I said before, it's Sam Shepard!  So I will be there.

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