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Did Oedipus Myth The Point?

New York
Fisher BamTheater
09/25/2019 -  & September 26, 27*, 28, 29, 2019
Elli Papakonstantinou: Oedipus: Sex with Mom Was Blinding
Nassia Gofa (Jocasta, Chorus), Anastasia Katsinavaki (Teiresias, Chorus), Elias Husiak (Boy, Young Oedipus), Theodora Loukas (Woman), Lito Messini (Oedipus, Chorus)
Misha Piatigorsky (MC/Piano), Julia Kent (Cello)
Elli Papkonstantinou (Concept, stage direction, lighting design, libretto), Tilemachos Mousas, Julia Kent (Music composition), Stephanie Sherriff (Real time cinematic environments), Professor Manos Tsakiris (Scientific Adviser), Martina Keleri, Chrysanthi Avioniti (Masks concept, design and materialization), Jolene Richardson (Costumes)

E. Papakonstantinou

A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself... with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.
Ingredients of “Stifado” (Greek Stew): Olive oil, onion, beef chuck, cloves garlic, red wine, brown sugar, cumin cloves, cinnamon, raisins orange peel, pepper crumbled feta heese, toasted pine nuts etc etc

The “immersive opera” at BAM Fisher Theater was less Greek catharsis and more Greek stew. Greece’s most famed writer, director, producer and representative of the avant-garde in Europe and America, Elli Papakonstantinou, used the first of Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy as a foundation. The result was a smorgasbord of blues, strobes, smoke, dance, a psychiatrist (with a weak joke about Oedipus Complex), mathematics, the Oedipus narrative told in Siri-computer voice), sickly videos of clouds and highways (Oedipus killed his father at a crossroad), japes and songs about screwing one’s mother, a little Latin, a lot of interweaving characters, and a slam-bang ending of flashing lights, smoke, 10,000 electronic timpani, darkness and a Don Giovanni-like ending ensemble singing about “Mama, Mama.”

Plus an audience participation section where we were supposed to chant some words. That response was anemic.

To her credit, the inventive Ms. Papakonstantinou realized that from the beginning, the Oedipus sin was not incest: it was about trying to beat Fate at its own game. It can’t be done. And the songs, narrations and equations were amiably debates about whether we have Free Will or not. The phrasing was aphoristic, the questions (including equations) would have done well with a Sophocles or any epistemologist worth his Schrödinger’s Cat.

And frankly, if Hamilton so brilliantly used rap, Fate is well worthy of the Blues.

Alas, as this amazingly versatile cast continued, reason and determinism gave way to meaningless songs, conversations with a shrink, back-and-forth episodes of ancient stories and relatively modern metaphors. Styled with 1950’s Anota O’Day-style jazz , conversations and that extravagant ending.

In a certain way, Ms. Papakonstantinou gave us an homage to Classical Greek theater. Just as we now know the “milky-white” architecture was emblazoned in garish colors, I don’t believe for a moment that Attic Theater was static theater, with choruses chanting and masked characters talking. They must have all run around, they had to have made deaths as gory as the Halloween movies, and–at least in Aristophanes–the interplay with the audience must have been physical and improvisatory.

Yet in those days, they did have stories to tell. In Ms. Papakonstantinou, I never quite caught the story beneath the style.

M. Piatigorsky (© Stelios Papardelas)

With one exception, jazz pianist-composer Misha Piatigorsky was both pianist and “MC” of the proceedings. So let us imagine Cabaret’s Joel Grey having been created by Satan and Savanarola, conducting the proceedings with fierce comments, with devilish grins, with sarcastic mouthings and intricate tinkling, and...

Well, Mr. Piatigorsky commanded and raged, as one of the two males in the show (the other a rather epicene “Boy”), dominated with a Pan-like vicious humor. Should this Titan of the show appear later as Faust or Mephistopheles or Stanley Kowalski, I’ll be first in line to see him.

Others in the cast danced and swayed their way around the show, carrying spotlights and Ipods. Nassia Gofa was both Jocasta and Chorus and, with Lito Messini as Oedipus swayed their way around stage. Theodora Koukas sat on her Shrink’s bench and told stories about herself. Others in the cast got confused in their identities, but all seemed to enjoy the jolly set of rituals.

Oh, and yes, we in the audience, besides flimsily reciting our parts, were supposed to take out our cell-phones and look at ourselves. Then, commanded Mr. Piatigorsky, we were supposed to answer whether or not we liked our looks, disliked the way we looked, saw part of our mother in these images (all the answers were half yes, half no) and finally, were asked whether we ever thought of copulating with our mother or killing our father.

The response from the audience was a sotto voce “Huh?” and a physical shrugging of the shoulders.

My feelings about Oedipus exactly.

Harry Rolnick



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