The title of Elli Papapakonstantinou’s interpretation of Oedipus Rex, adapted from Sophocles’s tragedy, is your first clue that you have no idea what you’ll be getting into. Oedipus: Sex With Mum Was Blinding is billed as an “immersive,” “innovative cinematic opera” – and when you sit down for the show, you realize that no description could have prepared you for the roller coaster you are about to experience.
With 2500 years of stage production behind it, one is hard-pressed to find a truly new way to present the tragedy of Oedipus. But Papapakonstantinou might just have succeeded. Every few minutes, it seems the performance changes tack. One minute, we are listening to a narrator tell us the story of Oedipus’s birth; another minute, Jocasta (Nassia Gofa) performs a bawdy tune called “Mamma.” Another minute, we are listening in on a woman’s therapy session, as her psychiatrist tries to convince her that Oedipal complexes and dreams of killing your father are natural. An emcee (Misha Piatigorsky) painted and dressed like the Joker flits around the stage, fanatically waving a baton at the actors and the audience or sitting down to croon at the piano, all with a wild obsession that would make Heath Ledger proud. How does this play into the larger story, or the myth of Oedipus? Your guess is as good as mine. His performance was certainly entertaining, and not a small amount of unnerving.
But if one were to pin down a timeline, the play largely focuses on the apocalyptic panic in the city of Thebes when the citizens realize they are being punished by the gods for a crime they don’t know how to atone for. There is a chorus of sopranos chanting Latin prayers to the heavens, music so loud you can feel the soundwaves on your skin, and blurry ground shots of a city on fire projected on the screen in the background. But for all the powerful emotions this scene conjures, it’s only one of very many pieces in this multimedia mosaic of a production which seems to delight in tripping around a traditional narrative.
There are so many moving pieces in Oedipus that’s it’s difficult to keep track of them all, let alone follow how they all feed into the larger story. There are so many different stories being told that we don’t even meet Oedipus (Lito Messini) until what feels like the end of the play. Incidentally, Oedipus is one of the most compelling characters on stage – tormented by guilt, inaction, and an impending sense of doom, all of his lines are performed in Messini’s operatic soprano. He is like a romantic lead pulled from a particularly tragic Puccini. In fact, the best moments in Oedipus: Sex With Mum Was Blinding were those that were the most character-driven. One scene in particular, which nearly moved this reviewer to tears, was a tearful ballad sung by Queen Jocasta, who has realized that her world is about to be uprooted and wishes to live for one last peaceful moment with the love of her life before her last shred of innocence is destroyed. The music, an original score by Tilemachos Moussas and Julia Kent, is beautiful and powerful throughout the show, but never more so than in this scene.
Oedipus: Sex With Mum Was Blinding is a conglomerate of many media, narratives, characters, and scenes that ultimately don’t live up to the sum of their parts. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments. This production might leave you with a feeling of whiplash, trying to process the multitude of what you’ve just seen. Maybe you walk away feeling sad, or inspired, or just confused. But for better or worse, Papapakonstantinou’s Oedipus: Sex With Mum Was Blinding will be on your mind.
- Immersive Opera
- Conceived, written, and directed by Elli Papapakonstantinou
- Original music by Tilemachos Moussas and Julia Kent
- Cinematic environments by Stephanie Sherriff
- Cast includes: Nassia Gofa, Elias Husiak, Anastasia Katsinavaki, Julia Kent, Theodora Loukas, Lito Messini, Misha Piatigorsky, Manos Tsakiris
- BAM Fisher
- Until 29 September 2019
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