A scene from The Comedy of Oedipus. Photo courtesy CTC.
The Comedy of Oedipus
By Ali Salem
Directed by Mera Kathryn Corlett
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
It’s safe to assume we all know a little something about Oedipus. Whether you studied it in your Intro to Theater course in college or Psychology 101 class, it’s one tragedy that has a far reach. So we all know that it’s actually hilarious. Okay, I may have spoken too soon. Commonwealth Theatre Center has mounted an ambitious staging of The Comedy of Oedipus, the once-banned satire written by Ali Salem. Fresh and zany, this production makes every attempt to keep its audience laughing.
The play is rich with comedy that slings at every turn. The cast keeps the energy abundant with every bawdy comedic bit and subtle satirical wink they give. They handle zippy one-liners and wordplay like pros and do well as a noticeable peanut gallery in the throes of gossip and meddling. Singular moments involving obviously plastic yet bloody limbs taken from a sphinx and children playing with Oedipus action figures round out the strong comedic capabilities. And who doesn’t like a good song parody? Well, wait until you hear the pop song parodies at the end of the first act. It’s quite a treat.
The Comedy of Oedipus is inherently satirical and this production takes liberties to reflect on current social affairs. Creon (Field Oldham) is a bloodthirsty army captain while Onah (Makayla Roth) deflects, twists and turns philosophical debates about tradition with a style that is reminiscent of our President’s current media staff. Awalih (Noah Bunch) is a charming policeman with charisma and national pride. Oedipus (Oliver Cox) takes the form of a young intellectual thrust into the political spotlight. As fans flock to him, Cox plays the unsuspected stardom with natural ease and relatability. Oedipus sees himself at ideological odds with the likes of politicians, intellectuals, and law enforcement. Hermoine Bean-Mills as Tiresias provides blind guidance for Oedipus as she appears and disappears throughout the play. Perhaps the strongest element, Bean-Mills glides effortlessly through crowds and moments of a ruckus to deliver quips and anecdotes displaying wisdom beyond her years.
With such strong emphasis on the comedy of the play, important plot developments lost their magnitude. Beats, punch lines, and even plot exposition was drowned and dropped throughout the play. At times key lines and phrases seemed overwhelmed by a rushed light cue or distracted by exaggerated blocking. One particular scene seemed to leave the audience feeling very uncomfortable. Focused on a bucket of water and kiddie pool, two actors emulated the drowning of a third actor in the middle of a bare stage. Immediately after, the third actor was slowly dragged off stage, face down. The apparent point of the scene was to display a serious scenario like torture in a silly manner by using a kiddie pool. Indeed, the choice of props added an absurd element to a heavy-handed moment within the scene. This is educational theater after all and young students should learn about the realities of the world no matter how disturbing, but as two high school students wildly pulled and pushed their scene partner’s head into a bucket of water, the tone changed drastically. The very noticeable gasps and groans from concerned parents and the nervous laughter betrayed the level of discomfort. Indeed, in this scene, the blocking should have been reconsidered.
Overall, the laughs keep coming with this show. And this cast sinks their teeth into all the humor the play has to offer. The Comedy of Oedipus is an ambitious production and the company at Commonwealth Theatre Center steps up to the challenge with great vivacity and energy.
The Comedy of Oedipus
November 30-December 9, 2017
Thursday – Saturday evenings @7:30pm
Saturday matinees @ 2:00pm
Commonwealth Theater Center
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
1125 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40206
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite at the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!