Students will retell the ancient story of Oedipus this weekend in a workshop production based on Ellen McLaughlin’s 2005 adaptation.

“Oedipus Rex” is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles first performed around 429 B.C. According to the play’s synopsis, when a plague grips the city of Thebes, King Oedipus sends a messenger to the oracle at Delphi to find out how to save his people. He discovers that the city’s salvation lies in finding and punishing the murderer of the former king, Laius, who was brutally slain by a stranger at a crossroads. When Oedipus orders a manhunt, he unknowingly sets the wheels of his own destruction in motion.

“It’s a story of self-discovery and loss of innocence,” said director Jack McAuliffe ’20. “The climax of the story is that moment of consciousness that each of us contains both good and evil. The play raises a lot of philosophical questions about faith, about the meaning of life, about what it means to be good.”

According to McAuliffe, McLaughlin’s version of “Oedipus” balances poetic classicism and language accessible to a modern audience, decreasing the distance between the audience and the ancient text.

McAuliffe said workshop productions are focused on the text. The show’s design elements are meant to enhance the words of the play, which primarily paint the imagery for the audience.

Julian Hornos Kohl ’22, who plays Creon — the brother of Jocasta, who is Oedipus’ wife and mother — said he appreciated the workshop nature of the production, which allows actors to connect more with the text and the story.

The production features original choral music composed by Alex Whittington ’22, which uses a vibraphone, a flute and vocals.

“The timbral sparseness really helps to craft this hollow, ethereal sound that lends itself to the text,” Whittington said.

According to Whittington, while modern audiences don’t have access to the sound world of ancient Greek tragedy, music is still an important element of the storytelling process.

The first choral ode occurs when the citizens of Thebes appeal to Oedipus, asking him to rescue the city from its plight. Whittington said he wanted to explore the cyclical nature of how music and text shape one another. Because of this, he allowed the themes of discord and distress in the text to influence the interactions between the chorus and instruments.

“What makes this adaptation so vibrant and forthright is the really accessible but heightened register that Ellen McLaughlin writes in,” Whittington said. “The way she does that serves itself very well to be set to music, and so it felt essential to bring the text to life in that way.”

Whittington said he tried to use his compositional voice in the most succinct and impactful way possible. In the play, the music is prerecorded. During the choral episodes, the cast members change into neutral black costumes and act out the roles of the chorus.

“I think [the music] adds something both expansive and highly introspective to this story, in a way that might not be so easily accessed without it,” Whittington said. “The music is an invitation to think critically.”

“Oedipus: A Workshop Production” will run from Feb. 13 to Feb. 15, with shows at 8 p.m. each evening and an additional afternoon show at 2 p.m. on Feb. 15 in the Lighten Theater on Prospect Street.

 

Carrie Zhou | pinyi.zhou@yale.edu