Fringe Festival's "Oedipus at FDR'

3 minute read
1052 Oedipus
Sophocles in a skate park


The first show to sell out at the Fringe Festival was Sophocles in a skate park: Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey’s deserving update of Oedipus at Colonus (Oedipus at FDR), staged way down in South Philadelphia’s FDR park.

Brilliant: Ramey’s use of skateboarders as The Furies. Doubly so: the venue. In the dozen years since the City of Brotherly Love forced the skateboarders out of Center City’s Love Park – giving them as peculiar recompense a 16,000-square-foot stretch of concrete under I-95 in otherwise vernal FDR— the skaters have sweated, poured, spray-painted, and mounded tables, mini-pyramids and ledges suitable to skaters as well as thespians.

For four nights, fires blazing in oil cans lit a black starless sky— trucks silently passing on the overpass behind— while audiences (limited for reasons of safety) sat in the urban pit watching Pearce Bunting as the blind, ill-fated king enact the last days of his destiny, choosing where to die: Back home in Thebes, where his warring sons want him? Or outside Athens– aka 21st Century urban Philadelphia—where he wrests his final act of will? His daughters/sisters Antigone (Corinna Burns) and Ismene (Hinako Arao) are close by. (Other performers were James Ijames, Brian Osborne, Mikaal Sulaiman and Dito Van Reigersberg.)

Whirring, ripping, roaring and circling the arguments of the sorrowful and philosophical old man are Philadelphia skaters, led by Joshua Nims, who administers the skate park and also choreographed the simple but potent dance of these fine “Furies”: Dave Hunt, Frank Schaffroth, Jim Simmons and Nate Logue. The effect: Mesmerizing.

James Sugg’s original sound design was broadcast over FM radio, heard through good headphones provided to every attendee. Now and then there was a lapse of sound, but otherwise the clarity was as high as the energy of Sugg’s musical design. The matters of destiny and will, guilt and fealty, with which Oedipus was wrestling came through: comprehensible, relevant and wrenching.

Suli Holum wrote some original text for Delpech-Ramey’s adaptation of urban Sophocles.

The producers are to be congratulated for leaving nothing to chance. Everything was accomplished with a thought for the audience’s safety, ease and pleasure. The show began with a bus ride from Olde City— long enough for a brief refresher on Oedipus and his sorry family as well as the etiquette required at Skater Park, for many of us did not know that it was in its own way, (check YouTube!) hallowed ground. Also enough time— while Philadelphia school buses were unloading— to prepare to enter the amphitheater, patronize the outdoor ice cream truck, and have a tarot card reading or a fortune told.

Fortune favored my bus with the playwright as guide: Delpech-Ramey— playwright, mime, Pig Iron Theater Company alumna. She’s a young woman of strong, diverse gifts. Oedipus at FDR is the second Fringe production I’ve encountered and found direct, cut-to-the-quick engaging. The first: last season’s witty and poignant Madame Douce-Amère at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on Three.

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