Teatro del Sol’s Oedipus El Rey adapts Sophocles to represent stories by the Latinx community. Written by Luis Alfaro and directed by Tanaquil Márquez for the company’s residency at the Arden, the bilingual play doesn’t quite find its footing, but it does make important steps in storytelling.
Oedipus El Rey follows the loose storyline of the classic tale, modernizing the roots of the story by setting the scene in the gritty streets of Central Los Angeles. Told through the lens of the Chicano experience, the story finds Oedipus released from prison and attempting to reintegrate into society. Battling his own fate, he is tempted by forces of desire and power, both ultimately leading to his downfall.
Mural and movement
The set is very simple, made entirely of an empty stage with the backdrop of a beautiful mural by artist Cesar Viveros. Márquez’s directing involves several tightly choreographed moments where the entire cast moves in unison. Although some scenes prove to be more powerful with movements and dialogue delivered in unison, this approach became too repetitive throughout the play and loses its initial spark.
Moments of vibrancy
The over-the-top tone of the play lends itself to caricatures rather than grounded and relatable characters. The all-Latinx cast has moments of vibrancy, but the play feels stuck in fast-forward mode, with dialogue sounding like one run-on sentence. The actors rarely let their words sink in and settle, leaving me craving more gaps of silence. Some emotions feel like a stretch for the cast, leading to over-acting and inauthentic performances.
Frank Jimenez delivers a solid performance as Oedipus, with a subtlety in face and body that realizes a range of deep emotions. Jessica Gruver as Oedipus’s mother gives a vulnerable and dynamic performance, skillfully leaning into graphic and violent scenes.
A lack of natural fluidity in the writing leaves a lot of dialogue that doesn’t provoke raw feelings or investment from the audience. But some moments in the script are moving, beautiful, and real. Truly poetic lines are embedded at points in the play, leaving me with chills for a fleeting moment, as when Oedipus is confronted with the truth, learning that “a father is not made of blood, but of sweat and bruises … breath blowing into your ear the ideas of life.”
A step forward
Historically marginalized communities are not often given the opportunity to write their own stories, stuck in a vicious cycle that is written for them. Oedipus El Rey attempts to break away from that narrative, showcasing the painful roots of violence in Latinx communities. One of the closing lines sums it up well: “We are guilty of the lies we tell ourselves and choose to believe.” Although the play falls short of the original material, it’s a step forward in the direction of communities telling their own stories.
What, When, Where
Oedipus El Rey. By Luis Alfaro. Directed by Tanaquil Márquez. Through March 22 at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia. (215) 922-1122 or teatrodelsol.org.
The Arden is fully accessible, with wheelchair seating and companion seating available for all performances. The Arden also offers assistive listening devices for every performance in each of its three spaces.