Theater Review: Oedipus – A Case Study

Hanan Snir’s bold and stimulating take in which the story of Oedipus becomes a therapeutic technique to jolt a near catatonic patient back to reality.

March 7, 2015 21:50
2 minute read.

'Oedipus'. (photo credit: GERARD ALON)

Oedipus – A Case Study
By Sophocles
Translated by Shimon Buzaglo
Habima, March 1

You might say the title says it all. The original is Oedipus the King, one of the greatest among the surviving canon of classical Greek theater.

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Fifth century BCE Greek audiences would have known the Oedipus legend, an ancient myth of incest and patricide, of fate, gods, and that fatal self-blind pride the Greeks called hubris, but they’d have eagerly watched to see what Sophocles did with it, as have audiences down the centuries since.

So Hanan Snir’s bold and stimulating take in which the story of Oedipus becomes a therapeutic technique to jolt a near catatonic patient back to reality.

We are in a psychiatric facility, in one of its lecture halls complete with viewing gallery (Roni Toren’s set), where the white-coated staff psychiatrists are having their daily meeting. Under discussion is a young man. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is mentioned.

“If we do this,” cautions head psychiatrist Gil Frank, later Creon, “we have to go exactly by the protocol,” meaning they cannot deviate from the script, come what may. The others agree save for Dvora Kedar who’ll as reluctantly play the blind Tiresias later on.

And that’s what this Oedipus is about. The causes and effects of moral, emotional and finally physical blindness, how denial, suppression, repression can cause disease in mind, body and the body politic.

A reference to us here? Of course. It lashes out in the speech Oedipus makes to the citizens of Thebes on finding Laios’ murderer.

And the doctors begin. There’s no attempt to be “real.” It’s dispassionate. A research project.

Enter Oedipus (Alex Krul). Hooded, head down, body slack, he’s seated in a chair. Gently Frank/Creon draws back the hood, takes the hair out of his face, prompts him with the king’s first lines to the people of plague-stricken Thebes, and we are off.

The doctors/psychiatrists play all the parts while keeping a watchful eye on Frank and their patient as he’s stripped of layer after layer. We follow Krul as he’s sucked more and more into the role, as he sheds lethargy and dives from the high board into the arrogant and imperceptive man that is Oedipus before the truth clobbers him.

The violent scene between Oedipus and the furious co-opted “Tiresias” is a tour de force in a bravura yet completely disciplined performance from them both.

Tying on long skirts over their clinical whites, Aharon Almog, Michael Koresh, Dov Reiser and Ghassan Abbas ably take on the chorus, with the latter two enjoying a delicious comic turn as shepherd and messenger. Under Frank/ Creon’s watchful eye they sensitively prod, lead, inveigle Oedipus/the patient. These are strong performances, as is that of Frank who switches seamlessly between Creon and mentor, never losing sight of either.

The only one who seems a bit unsure is Yevgenia Dodina, who plays Jocasta. We can only surmise why. Is it that she is also her patient’s personal therapist? Does she feel a more than professional interest so that playing Jocasta gives rein to forbidden feelings? Dodina’s deliberate ambivalence reaches out to us.

This Oedipus works for me. Go see for yourselves.

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