The archetypical Greek tragedy, Sophocles' Oedipus the King can be traced back to Athens, 429 BC. It is quite possibly the most translated, most adapted dramatic play in history. Yet its fundamental story arc—that of a man who unwittingly kills his own father, and marries his own mother, then pokes out his own eyes when he realizes what he's done—speaks to something deep, and dark, in all of us.
You’ve heard of Freud’s theory about the Oedipus Complex? Here’s the original guy with mommy and daddy issues.
The Savannah Stage Company is mounting a production of Oedipus The King June 13-21 in the third floor loft space of the restaurant/club Ampersand.
Director Jayme Tinti, the group’s outreach director and associate artistic director, says that the translation by John Hardy “contemporizes” Oedipus without straining the audience’s sense of logic and proportion.
“The story is the same; the lesson is the same,” Tinti explains. “What this adaptation offers us is accessibility through language. So much of what we talk about at Savannah Stage Company is accessibility.
“I would have a hard time seeing it with the original language—I don’t know how engaged I could possibly be with that kind of a language barrier. With John’s adaptation, anyone can know what’s going on.”
An actor, director and playwright, Hardy is also known for his exhaustive one-man shows (in his adaptation of A Christmas Carol, for example, he plays 20 characters). In 2008, he directed his Oedipus at Virginia’s Barter Theatre; Jayme Tinti was the company’s stage manager.
And she fell head over heels for the way Hardy re-framed the legendary morality play.
“It’s one of those stories where you can almost hope that it’s going to end differently,” she says. “And that’s what I want with this production—for someone who’s familiar with the story to be there just for a moment with Oedipus and hope it will be different.”
In the title role will be Ryan Henderson, who played Oedipus in that Hardy-directed Barter production. Another Barter alum, Jason Lavalee, is in the cast, along with SSC regulars Lexi Balaoing, Cat Yates, Bryan Pridgen and Wesley Pridgen.
The chorus—a staple of classic Greek drama—will be in silhouette, behind enormous white screens. That’s an innovation of Tinti’s. “What we’ve discovered during rehearsals is that he uses the chorus very much as a counsel,” she explains. “And it’s working. It’s engaging.”
This adaptation centers around an oracle’s pronouncement that the City of Thebes is doomed unless the murderer of King Laius (Oedipus’ predecessor) can be found.
And guess who that is?
“That’s definitely where things start for us,” Tinti says. “It’s all in pursuit of saving the city, and in doing so, Oedipus learns about himself—and that he is the festering thing in the city.”
Tinti points to a specific moment in the play. “There’s a line, ‘There’s no such thing as a humble leader,’” she explains. “In other words, until that mirror’s held up, how much of ourselves do we really see?
“How much control do we have over our own life? What sits with me, especially going through it this second time, is how unaware of ourselves we all are.”
It’s been two years since Tinti, artistic director Bryan Pridgen and several others left their Barter Theatre gigs for Savannah, where they bravely began a grassroots theater company without knowing a single person in the community.
“It’s real easy to dream,” she reflects. “Bryan and I have been sitting together dreaming for a long time.”
Their children’s theater outreach successfully tours area schools and libraries year-round; Oedipus arrives halfway through the company’s second season of full stage productions.
Still, there have been some bumps. “I’m glad that it’s not easy,” Tinti says. “We’re out there all day, pounding the pavement, trying to make this happen. And some areas have gone beyond our dreams; in some areas, we got our ass handed to us.”
Tinti is also in charge of the Savannah Stage Company’s improv comedy group; she has glowing words for the Odd Lot, the city’s other improv outfit, for continually raising the bar.
“I’m so glad to be here in Savannah,” she enthuses. “So glad to have met the people I’m meeting, and being inspired by all of this other art. Being challenged, even with other companies challenging me all the time. That’s cool.”