The LA Times calls Oedipus “a spellbinding dance of pain and eroticism.” (excerpts below the fold)
LA Stage Blog says “You want to see something that’s really…hot? On a stage in L.A.? Check out the first meeting of Oedipus (Justin Huen) and Jocasta (Marlene Forte) in Luis Alfaro’s new Oedipus El Rey, at the Boston Court. The sexual electricidad ignites the room.”
Pasadena Star News says “Polished, compelling and filled with “ah-ha moments,” the combined hook of the tale itself and the translation of the story into this new time period make the time fly.” (full review below)
It gets a GO! from the LA Weekly
LATheatreReview.com says “The finals moments are frightfully stunning…” and more (see below the fold)
Blog Critics “Oedipus El Rey as conceived by Luis Alfaro and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera is a great success, thanks to the fine writing, excellent and imaginative direction, and strong casting.”
Examiner.com says “This production is a bold retelling of the myth, with stark and effective staging (set by John H. Binkley) and a driving urgent rhythm under [Jon Lawrence] Rivera.”
LA Splash calls the play “A Theatre Experience of Epic Proportion”
Out and About Magazine says “Playwright Luis Alfaro breathes life into Sophocles’ ancient text with a crackling adaptation called Oedipus el Rey.”
Stage Scene LA says “Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey is out-and-out brilliant theater”
For full reviews…
The LA Times:
‘Oedipus’ tale set in East L.A.
Forget Romeo and Juliet, in Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey,” now at the Boston Court, it’s ex-con Oedipus (Justin Huen) and barrio widow Jocasta (Marlene Forte) who are sympathetic star-crossed lovers. The two meet and fall in love in the play’s most electric scene, a spellbinding dance of pain and eroticism.
Alfaro updates Sophocles’ tragedy to contemporary East L.A. where shot caller Laius (Leandro Cano) wears bling and Oedipus, raised in the California Youth Authority system, believes his father is the blind Tiresias (Winston J. Rocha, nicely underplaying).
The playwright has a droll, teasing way with the story, lending a refreshingly light touch to very familiar material delicious, a sleek, three-headed demon played by the adept chorus.
Director Jon Lawrence Rivera works seamlessly with his team of designers to achieve a stark elegance: John H. Binkley’s striking set pops under Jeremy Pivnick’s superb lighting, while Robert Oriol’s electric guitar riffs capture the story’s sex, agression and unease.
Beyond the love story, it’s not quite clear what larger truth this modern Oedipus reveals.
Alfaro may not conjure epic catharsis, but his “Oedious” makes the point that we all have our blind side.
Full review here
LA Stage Blog:
You want to see something that’s really…hot? On a stage in L.A.?
Check out the first meeting of Oedipus (Justin Huen) and Jocasta (Marlene Forte) in Luis Alfaro’s new Oedipus El Rey, at the Boston Court. The sexual electricidad ignites the room.
Emphasizing that aspect of the production in a marketing campaign might sound, well, crass or sophomoric – sort of like those written come-ons that start with a bold-faced “SEX,” and then proceed with “Now that I have your attention…”
Yet such an emphasis would hardly be gratuitous in this case. One of the strengths of this Oedipus, in contrast to Sophocles’ original, is that it unequivocally demonstrates the source of the two lovers’ sexual connection. Of course, this is long before they discover – I’m assuming that no spoiler alert is necessary – that they’re not just your average younger man and older woman. They’re son and mother.
They remove all their clothes by the end of the scene. But the dialogue that leads up to it – in which they transcend initial suspicion to discover a common yearning that goes far beyond the physical – is as incendiary as the nudity.
Read the full review here.
The Pasadena Star News:
Justin Huen leads the cast as the doomed “king,” vibrating with energy and the impulsive qualities of youth. All but raised in prison, this Oedipus’ essential flaws stem from the foreign quality of his upbringing and that impulsive intensity. As Jocasta, who is much more than his eventual wife, Marlene Forte radiates with a kind of essential fatigue, which battles the brief hope she finds in Oedipus.
Backing these two, in true Greek fashion, is an impressively well-oiled chorus, whose sense of ensemble allows for a kind of collective humor, pathos and sense of the inevitability of it all. Within that chorus, Winston J. Rocha stands out as the blind old man Oedipus considers his father, Leandro Cano as the commanding, ruthless former neighborhood boss/king Oedipus replaces, and Daniel Chacon as Jocasta’s rather ineffective brother.
They, along with the equally fascinating Carlos Acuna and Michael Uribes, create the world in which Oedipus lives.
Director Jon Lawrence Rivera has choreographed the enterprise as nothing so much as a dance. The representational, effective set by John H. Binkley allows a flow between northern California prison life and the drab everyday of the Los Angeles barrio to be easier than one might expect. Polished, compelling and filled with “ah-ha moments,” the combined hook of the tale itself and the translation of the story into this new time period make the time fly.
“Oedipus el Rey” is performed without an intermission, which adds both to the fascination and the sense of impending doom central to the ancient and modern storyline. The show contains violence, sexual situations and nudity. It is definitely for adults only.
Full review here
LA WEEKLY NEW REVIEW GO OEDIPUS EL REY Brilliantly staged by director Jon Lawrence Rivera, Luis Alfaro’s transmogrification of the story of Oedipus to prison and the barrio makes for powerful stuff. A chorus of inmates unveils the saga: A gang leader, Laius (Leandro Cano), informed that his infant son will one day destroy him, orders his henchman Tiresias (Winston J. Rocha) to take the child away and kill him. Fast forward a generation: Both Tiresias and his “son” Oedipus (Justin Huen) are incarcerated together in North Kern State Prison. (Intellectuals of sorts, they frequent the prison library.) On his return to the barrio after his release, Oedipus meets up with and slays Laius, before falling for Jocasta (Marlene Forte) — the two flagrantly light each other’s fire, to the community’s displeasure. As per Sophocles’ original, the tale unwinds to a tragic and enlightening denouement, with all the classic themes evident: the folly of pride, the immutability of fate, the reluctance of human beings to confront obvious truth. Alfaro spins much of this in a colloquial lexicon that makes it all the more forceful. Some of his passages – Tiresias’ musings on what a father really is, after Oedipus has beaten and reviled him (beautifully played by Rocha) – are memorable and moving. Huen is charismatic, the ensemble is strong and the production design – lighting (Jeremy Pivnick), scenic design (John H. Binkley) and sound and music composition (Robert Oriol) – is impeccable. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (626) 683-6883. (Deborah Klugman)
Astoundingly real and electrifying is the scene in which Oedipus and Jocasta “first” meet, after he is released from prison and looking for interim housing. The actors Justin Huen and Marlene Forte irresistibly compel us to feel the pair’s heat. Equally memorable is an ode to fatherhood by the blind and always imprisoned Tiresias, delivered gracefully and tenderly by Winston J. Rocha. Making Laius burly and bossy, Leandro Cano is alternately regal and terrifying. Daniel Chacón delights as he makes Creon a bratty teen.
Read the entire Backstage review here.
Oedipus el Rey Theatre Review – A Theatre Experience of Epic Proportion
Disclaimer: This review is a bit scary for me, because I’m afraid that nothing I write will adequately do this show justice. Please allow me be blunt on the outset: This show is fantastic!
Oedipus el Rey is a brilliant, reverence and worthy reimagining of the timeless original first penned by Sophocles. Justin Huen is electrifying as Oedipus, the ill-fated pawn of the gods. Marlene Forte portrays a Jocasta whose sorrow and grieve are palpable. Leandro Cano’s Laius was cruel and angerous without being completely devoid of humanity. Winston J. Rocha’s Tiresias is the portrait of submission and wisdom. And Daniel Chacón delivers the much-needed breaks from the high drama through his character Creon. The Coro, whose composition was constantly mutating, performs as a colorful symphony, voicing Luis Alfaro’s lyrical poetry in finely tuned unison. This production is a tour de force of exceptional performances that will leave you breathless.
Read the entire LA Splash review here
Life would be more exciting and colorful if one always had a Greek chorus commenting on one’s deeds and the colorful and musical Mexican culture of Southern California is a good fit here in the Boston Court’s production of Oedipus El Rey. Playwright Luis Alfaro has taken Sophocles’ classic tragedy, “Oedipus Rex,” and set it in North Kern State Prison and the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles. This new play, “Oedipus el Rey” is part of a national new play network world premiere–translated that means it is a world premiere, but Pasadena’s Boston Court isn’t the only place where the play is opening. The production, under the direction of Jon Lawrence Rivera, picks up the musical rhythms and aggressive vibes of the area for a powerful 90-minute production.
Full review here
Playwright Luis Alfaro breathes life into Sophocles’ ancient text with a crackling adaptation called Oedipus el Rey. Set it in the Chicano gang culture of East LA and the California prison system, Pasadena’s Boston Court Theatre has mounted a fiercely authentic production with a superb troupe of perfectly cast actors. The electrifyingly powerful Justin Huen as Oedipus, just released from prison, all pent up rage and sexual longing, kills gang leader Laius (Leandro Cano) on his way home to the barrio where he meets up with his prison pal Creon (Daniel Chacón, a Watsonville native and El Teatro Campesino veterano) and Creon’s older sister Jocasta, Laius’ bitter, grieving widow.
Sophocles does not dramatize this crucial encounter between a volatile young man and woman old enough to be his mother and all scenes of violence are kept off the stage. Alfaro is not bound by such 2500 year-old Athenian conventions. Jocasta (Marlene Forte) seethes sexuality and her inner fire ignites Oedipus’ youthful volatility in a thrilling scene of passion the likes of which I have never seen on any stage, anywhere. The ensuing poignancy and tenderness between them makes the culminating revelations and tragic resolutions all the more wrenching.
The playwright retains the traditional chorus, a quintet of prisoners who step out between the prison bars of John H. Brinkley’s ideal, spartan set to take principal speaking roles. The chorus also comments on the action of the play, often in richly comedic ways, a blessing in a tragedy. Mike Uribes (well known to Out & About audiences for his six month run as El Pachuco in Luis’ Valdez’ Zoot Suit) brings down the house with a smartly ribald remark after the fateful sexual encounter.
Luis Alfaro keeps faith with Sophocles save for the onstage violence and passion and renders the old story relevant to a modern audience.
Full review here
Where so-called “edgy” or “experimental” theater is concerned, the line between brilliant and pretentious is a fine one indeed, and in this reviewer’s experience at least, the latter is more often the case than the former. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to report that Theatre @ Boston Court’s production of Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey is out-and-out brilliant theater, even for playgoers whose tastes run, as mine do, more toward the traditional.
Alfaro has taken the ancient Greek legend and transported it to present day Latino L.A., more specifically to the barrio called Pico-Union and to North Kern State Prison, where many of Oedipus El Rey’s characters have spent years of their lives. While Alfaro has taken certain liberties with the original plot, Oedipus El Rey is still very much a Greek tragedy, not just in its storyline but also in maintaining the Greek tradition of an onstage “chorus” who comment on the play’s events when not portraying various supporting characters. At times speaking in unison and at others as individuals, most frequently in English but occasionally in Spanish, this coro greco of five quickly establishes the production’s Latino identity.
In less proficient hands than Alfaro’s, Oedipus El Rey could have ended up un desastre pretencioso, i.e. a pretentious mess. Fortunately, with Alfaro’s often poetic words spoken by an absolutely superb ensemble under the brilliant direction of Jon Lawrence Rivera, Oedipus El Rey is simply theater at its finest, “experimental” or not…
Read full review here
There’s a lot to appreciate in Alfaro’s adaptation. His poetic prose evokes the classic and yet is very much rooted the contemporary. Especially poignant is the humor, which delicately balances the tragedy. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera masterfully choreographs the jumps in time and space as transitions are fully played out and scenes are elegantly overlapped. The rhythm of the language is never rushed, nor does it lag on.
El Coro (Michael Uribes, Carlos Acuña, Daniel Chacón, Cano and Rocha) seamlessly shifts from prison inmates to mythological creatures, and other characters. Most salient is the three-headed Esfinge (Uribes, Chacón and Acuña) who is destroyed and vanishes into thin air when Oedipus answers its riddle correctly.
The production’s simple and stark design complements the rich and heavy material. John H. Binkley’s set has a modern Japanese feel with its solid colors and sleek lines. Other than the red stage and sloped prison bars, the only other real set pieces are five stools and two chairs. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting design is dark and focused as it accentuates the play’s themes. Especially memorable is the sound design and music composition by Robert Oriol, whose mournful and exquisite guitar melody serves as the perfect underscore. Sound plays a crucial role in evoking mood and place. Whether it’s whistles, dogs barking, birds chirping, or the wind blowing – there always seems to be some sort of ambient noise. And when there is no noise, it makes the silence all the more deafening.
If this play were to be done in true Greek fashion – sans sets, lights, and sound – the story would still be just as memorable. That is due to the tremendous abilities of the ensemble and the delicate staging by Rivera. The finals moments are frightfully stunning as we witness the blind leading the blind, thus leaving us to question our own beliefs in fate and destiny and whether or not we have the power to change it.
Read the full review here.
It is always exciting to see a new treatment of a classic. Oedipus El Rey is a retelling of the Oedipus legend placed in a Hispanic context. The Culture Clash troupe does this kind of thing, but the approach can be beset with troubles and you often ask yourself “why?”
Not in this case. Oedipus El Rey as conceived by Luis Alfaro and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera is a great success, thanks to the fine writing, excellent and imaginative direction, and strong casting.
Alfaro tells his tale using seven strong actors. Oedipus (a terrific Justin Huen) is released from a prison where a blind man, Tiresias (underplayed nicely by Winston Rocha) has raised him from childhood. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, he is the son of King Laius (Leandro Cano) and Queen Jocaste (the powerful Marlene Forte). Oedipus ends up, as prophesied, killing his father and bedding his mother.
The scenes of passion between the intense Oedipus and the equally emotional Jocaste are absolutely riveting. Daniel Chacon plays Creon with great verve and even a sense of humor. God knows these tragedies need humor.
Everyone but Oedipus and Jocaste is in the chorus. Rivera gets some strong choral work from them and they are never stiff or too formal but really seem to be part of the action. When three of the men configure themselves as the Sphinx the result is theatrical magic.
The set is most effective, with chairs set up behind sliding prison gates, and the lighting is spot-on to create the needed tension. Special praise must be given to actor Justin Huen. He not only acts the hell out of his part but he lives it. There is not a false note in his performance.
This play was developed in the Getty Lab, which specializes in developing new ways to see classics. An interesting aspect of this play is that it is being performed by three separate theatre companies, directed by three different directors. This is certainly an interesting way to develop a play but I can’t imagine a better production than the one at Boston Court. Oedipus El Rey plays until March 28th. See it if you enjoy good theatre.