Oedipus Rex at PICT Classic | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Oedipus Rex at PICT Classic

The cast do declaim with the richest and most melodious voices

Karen Baum in Oedipus Rex
Karen Baum in Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex, the 2,500-year-old hit by Sophocles as freely adapted and directed by PICT Classic Theatre artistic director Alan Stanford, is, uh, complex. Puns aside, the PICT production at the Union Project ranges from grand spectacle to annoying obstacles.

The play opens with the Sphinx, a marvel of the talented thespian Karen Baum enhanced by costume (designed by Michael Montgomery) and various special effects (kudos to the tech people). Visually, the show drabs down after that, but — the voices. The cast Stanford has assembled do declaim with the richest and most melodious voices (give him credit, too, for retaining a kind of Sophoclean rhythm in the dialogue).

Unfortunately, the arrangement of the theater — a sort of cut-off thrust design — means that most of the time, we’re looking at the backs of heads (at best, profiles). The passion, the tensions are dissipated.

After a couple of millennia, Oedipus presents no need for spoiler alerts. The proud and powerful king of Thebes slowly realizes that, as predicted by two soothsayers, he did indeed kill his father and marry his mother. Mere mortals cannot defeat the gods.

This production fleshes out the characters and probes the relationships. While horrified at their unwitting incest, Oedipus and Jocasta (Justin Wade Wilson and Shammen McCune, respectively) still burn with the love of their long marriage. The murdered Laius (Kevin H. Moore) is shown as a man who inspired fear, not loyalty. Creon (Johnny Lee Davenport, turning on his best Samuel L. Jackson voice) comes out of the shadows of power to proclaim it once the Truth is out. Speaking of cast members (most of them multi-cast), I must sing the praises of Linda Haston as the wise and authoritative Leader of the Chorus, and James FitzGerald as the angered seer Tiresius.

Apart from the Sphinx, the design elements are subtle and timeless. This could be Thebes 3,000 years ago or another Thebes whenever. Antonio Colaruotolo’s lighting adds dimension to Johnmichael Bohach’s set (note scenic artist Deborah Thomas). Technical director Steve Lau and Almeda Beynon’s sound design enriches the supernatural nature of the tale.

A sometimes-obstructed feast for the eyes, Oedipus Rex is a feast for the ears.