By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Dallas Theater Center's artistic director Kevin Moriarty loves big-budget visual gimmickry, but for Oedipus el Rey, playwright Luis Alfaro's contemporary adaptation of the 2,500-year-old Greek myth, now running in the Studio Theatre at the Wyly, he's held his usual instincts in check. Instead of tatting things up, Moriarty and his design team have stripped everything down. What's left are the bare essentials needed to tell a timeless story of jealousy, betrayal, incest and murder.
Alfaro, a recipient of the MacArthur Genius award, moves Oedipus into the world of Chicano gangs and prison life. Abandoned at birth by a gang leader father, Oedipus, played by fiercely talented New York actor Phillippe Bowgen, grows up in juvie, later looked after in jail by wise blind mystic Tiresias (Rodney Garza of Cara Mia Theatre). Paroled, Oedipus fights his way into So-Cal border gangs, killing the chop shop "king" (David Lugo) and falling in love with his gorgeous widow, Jocasta (Sabina Zuniga Varela). Only later does Oedipus discover he's murdered his birth father and married his own mother. Oops.
Scenic designer Matthew McKinney has created a mini-coliseum for the 90-minute performance, squeezing the Wyly studio's narrow, armless plastic chairs tightly into high rows around a tiny oval acting space. Six Latino actors dressed in prison garb, decorated with plenty of body ink, whistle, pace and jog around a narrow track behind the audience. They play all the roles in the piece, donning bandanas and stocking caps to differentiate characters. New DTC company member Daniel Duque-Estrada sizzles as Creon, Oedipus' uncle/bro-in-law, all tense muscles and flashes of violent anger. What voices these men have, particularly Lugo, whose regal Laius growls like a panther.
There is nudity. Oedipus and Jocasta lie naked in each other's arms for a long, hot and ultimately talky scene in which they start to realize that the coincidences in their life stories aren't accidental. It can't be easy for Bowgen and Varela to be so bare with audience members breathing inches away. And that's one more element of danger in a fine production that bristles with it.