By LIBBY MOTIKA
Circling the News Contributor
Getty Museum Director Tim Potts greeted the sold out, opening night audience for the 17th season of the Villa Outdoor Classical Theater with a promise.
“This is going to be a really good time,” he said, “and proof that Sophocles doesn’t have to be a downer.”
The Gospel at Colonus, is based on Oedipus at Colonus, the middle play in the Oedipus trilogy, which focuses on the end of the disgraced king’s tragic life.
Fratricide and exile from his home leaves the Thebian bereft and resigned. Led by his daughter Antigone, Oedipus, blinded by his own shame and dressed in tatters, arrives in Colonus, wretched in his loneliness. Here he will end his days. He sings, “I shall find my sanctuary, I’ll be dowsed with grace and I shall find my resting place.”
Lifted from the inevitable fate of the Greek drama by the reinterpretation of the University of Chicago’s Court Theatre’s artistic team, this adaptation transforms the story into a Pentecostal service with its theme of redemption.
The play begins with a call for us in the audience to participate in what the production note describes as an oratorio set in Black Pentecostal service. The directing team of Mark J.P. Hood and Charles Newell (with associate director Ta Ron Patton) staged it in this fashion.
The chorus descends to the stage from atop the amphitheater, greeting the audience with encouraging smiles and a call to respond as they encourage our rhythmic clapping.
Notwithstanding the powerful gospel score and chorus, the story of Oedipus’ curse must be reviewed.
Destined from birth to suffer his inevitable fate, the king, who had achieved honor for having solved the Sphinx’s riddle tells his story–killing his father and marrying his mother–and is changed through this suffering.
In Lee Breuer’s adaptation which compares Oedipus’ suffering to the African American experience in America, the consequences are profound: one Greek and tragic and the other, finally, Christian and transformed by joy.
In sewing these two themes together, Breuer has divided the Oedipus role into two. Sophocles’ Oedipus, (Kelvin Roston Jr), at last accepting his fate, and the preacher Oedipus (Mark Spates), exhorting us not to mourn: “My children, you no longer will bear the burden, but one word will see the earth open up with love. Let the weeping cease, the love of God bring you peace.”
The cast as a whole is exceptional, but the highlights are musical. The chorus, accompanied by an on-stage band, transformed the Villa amphitheater into a spirited revival as only African American gospel can do. The play continues Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., through September 30. Contact: (310) 440-7300.