The Vancouver Island University drama program is bringing a 1,600-year-old play into the 21st century with a modern interpretation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
In the original play, Oedipus marries the king of Thebes’s widow, making himself king in the process. Oedipus must then find his predecessor’s killer in order to ward off a plague, only to discover the unbearable truth about his lineage.
In VIU theatre professor Eliza Gardiner’s reimagining, Oedipus is an overly assertive, stubborn, controlling president who runs Thebes like a corporation. She said, “There’s a bit of a political satire angle in there.”
“The chorus tries to advise him and tries to get him to back down a little bit and he just won’t.” Gardiner said. “It’s like a moral lesson: Don’t be so arrogant that you can’t listen to people and recognize your own faults, otherwise you might end up having this horrible defeat.”
Gardiner developed the script with four directed studies students who spent a semester comparing translations before breaking the play down to natural, contemporary language. Gardiner said her adaptation was informed by her experience staging a modern version of the play’s sequel at William Head Institute in 2017.
She describes her version of Oedipus Rex as having abstract, “affected style” while retaining its “dramatic flair.”
“The lights are going to be high contrast, the costumes are totally wicked, the characters are played by the opposite gender and so they’re having to really be the man or over-accentuate the feminine,” she said. “And so we put all those amazing pieces together and came up with a script that rips. It’s very dynamic, the dialogue is all full of conflict and the movement pieces are very entertaining. I think people are going to be quite rapt.”
Greek tragedies have always been Gardiner’s academic focus and she said staging modern versions of those plays allows current audiences to consider their lessons and values and wonder at the parallels between the era of antiquity and how people behave today.
“The ancient Greek tragedies have the best plots ever written,” Gardiner said. “They put a lot of thought into the composition, into not just the poetic and rhythmic style of speech, but also the themes that would impact the audience in a positive way because the ancient Greeks believed in the power of the arts to transform society.”
WHAT’S ON … The VIU theatre department presents Oedipus Rex at Malaspina Theatre from March 7 to 9 and 13 to 16 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $15, $12 for students. Tickets available at online and at the door.