by Kevin T. McEneaney
Lou Trapani’s new play Oedipus Rx at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck raises more questions than one can comfortably answer. A modern version of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles must engage in much time travel, as the conceit between cultural parallels to Classical Greece and the present must produce an instant, virtual internet connection.
This connection is made with parallel pandemic, political arrogance, and cultural corruption. Running at approximately 105 minutes, the conclusion offers a reversal of the Sophoclean masterpiece.
Oedipus Rex occurs in a culture that aspires to dignity and morality (which is, of course, defective). Oedipus Rx happens in a culture that has abandoned any pretence of dignity or aspiration to morality.
The one-room setting of the play recalls the ambiance of the existentialist play No Exit (1944) by Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre emphasized that there is no exit to humanity’s problems: we must face our mutual problems as a community that should work together with respect—that there is no exit from our human problems.
Here there is no exit because the very notion of solving our problems has been abandoned, and even any pose of morality has been abandoned, along with the ideals of our Founding Fathers. Even the concept that there is any moral behavior within a family unit has been abandoned. While the characters in Sartre’s play possess pathos, here conversation is but a shout in the darkness.
The tragedy is that we, collectively, have become a soul-less nation. Not only have we rejected our history, but we have rejected any notion of morality. History has descended into the underworld of nightmare from which we may not awaken.
What residue of humanity that is left resides in a bullied press which accepts bullying and is conditioned to accept bullying as normal. The President bellows Fake News, a propaganda trick invented by Vladimir Lenin who eventually shut down all newspapers in Russia, leaving one government paper, Pravda (Truth), to publish nothing but lies.
The gaggle of press reporters in Thebes (Washington, DC) never leave the room. They have no sources but can receive rumors from the Internet. Although the press does not want to be complicit in deceit, their confinement and acceptance of being bullied make them complicit.
Time appears to be an eternal present that is improvised stasis; time appears to an abstraction that remains irrelevant to history.
Josh Patriarco as Oedipus conveys a convincing Trumpian plasticity. Deborah Coconis as Jocasta delivers an emotionless complacence that conveys electric shock.
In this play we have fallen so low that we cannot have classic tragedy. The best we can aspire to is farce. This is not a play about the destruction of individuals, but a play about the destruction of our communal spirit.
This teleplay is written, produced, and directed by Lou Trapani. This production is available for on-demand from April 30 until May 9. Photography by Olivia Michaels.
Tickets: $30 for a household pass (no limit to attendees). For more information visit: https://centerforperformingarts.showare.com/
One may cast this play to a large television. Have a small Oedipus party and discover who exhibits a Trumpian complex!