BAM Fisher, Fishman Space
321 Ashland Pl.
September 25-29, $30
Shortly after Elli Papakonstantinou’s OEDIPUS: Sex with Mum Was Blinding begins, the sarcastic MC (Misha Piatigorsky), a cross between Joel Grey’s emcee from Cabaret and the Joker from Batman recently escaped from Arkham Asylum, brings up the topic of free will and declares, “Oh! Did I say? . . . You are not allowed to leave this room until this is over!” Not everyone inside BAM Fisher’s Fishman Space obeyed, as there were a handful of walk-outs during the ninety-minute production, but they would have fared better if they had stuck it out a little longer; while the first hour of this multimedia collaboration between the Athens-based ODC Ensemble and New York City’s the Directors Company is a chaotic mess, things improve significantly when Papakonstantinou, who is credited with the concept, stage direction, libretto, and lighting, turns her attention to the specific matter at hand: the tragic story of Oedipus (Lito Messini), his wife and mother, Jocasta (Nassia Gofa), and their children.
For much of the show, the audience has no idea where to look or what to listen to as ideas of responsibility, judgment, faith, and determinism are raised. A doctor (science adviser Manos Tsakiris) talks to a woman (Theodora Loukas) about a dream she had. A boy (Elias Husiak) can’t recognize his own face. A three-woman chorus (Anastasia Katsinavaki, Messini, Gofa) sings about riddles while wearing futuristic sci-fi helmets. Smoke drifts up from a tray of dry ice. A male-voiced Siri talks in mathematical equations. Audience members are practically forced to answer questions about their own image and relationship with their parents, then shout out four pieces of text that are in the program. And live footage of extreme close-ups of faces, hands, feet, and nostrils are projected onto a large rear screen along with shots of car traffic, causing yet more confusion. I was most riveted by the MC’s long, thin baton he used for conducting, hoping that, when he put it away in the front pocket of his shirt, it would not end up poking him in the eye. (This is Oedipus, after all.)
But then we reach Level Three and the actual story of Jocasta and Oedipus starts playing out onstage with the characters themselves (instead of being told to us in the third person), and we are lifted by Gofa’s lovely jazz phrasings and Messini’s beautiful soprano. The narrative suddenly wraps around us and we feel, for the first time, emotional resonance. The MC’s expert piano playing and co-composer Julia Kent’s splendid cello merge together in wonderful ways, as the earlier theories that were so much balderdash now make sense. It’s too bad this experimental Oedipus didn’t start off like this. “We are haunted by the myth of our potential,” the woman says, which could be about the show itself, the audience haunted by what could have been.