After 20 months, the Kenyon College Dance, Drama & Cinema Club (KCDC) returned to the Bolton Theater with Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. The famously incestuous Athenian tragedy may have been a peculiar choice to stage during Family Weekend, but the production was effective in delivering the doom and darkness its subject matter requires.
For the blissfully unaware, Oedipus Rex is the story of the titular king attempting to solve the murder of his predecessor, only to discover he is the subject of a harrowing prophecy and, unbeknownst to him, has murdered his father — that very predecessor — and married his mother.
The play was originally set in ancient Thebes, but KCDC’s production design borrowed from the Edwardian era, lending the show a fitting austerity. The majority of the cast wore stiff, neutral-toned suits, which conveyed the idea that Oedipus Rex is a formal affair in the same way a funeral is a formal affair. The horrors that transpire are so extreme that they almost command reverence.
Technical Director Christopher C. Ellsworth’s set design, with its sharp lines and dark wood, helped channel this severe tone. The set also highlighted the Chorus, a staple of the Greek drama. Risers staggered the Chorus members in a way that resembled a jury — or perhaps a 19th-century operating theater — framing the play’s action with judgement and sorrowful reserve. The Chorus’s interpretations of Sophocles’ odes enhanced this effect, and they were as technically impressive as they were mournful.
The excellent performances did not stop with the Chorus. Teddy Fischer ’22 was a convincing Oedipus, compelling as both the self-assured king and the disgraced, pitiful victim of fate. Sarah Grousta ’22, who played his mother, effectively communicated the most heartbreaking aspects of Iocaste’s character. Walker Borba ’23 gave my personal favorite performance of the night, as every second of his unhinged and darkly humorous Teireseus was a delight to watch.
Although the majority of Oedipus Rex is on the restrained side, director and Associate Professor of Drama and Film Ben Viccellio made the deliberate choice to go all-out for the play’s show-stopping climax. In a dramatic moment, Oedipus emerges onstage having just bloodily gouged his eyes out. He is reduced to his knees as he bemoans his fate and continues to lather himself in even more blood. It is a visually striking moment that lingered with me long after I left the theater.
As dramaturge Maia Wolf-Livingston ’23 writes in the program notes, the more one analyzes Oedipus Rex, the more disturbing it gets. KCDC’s production successfully communicated the Pandora’s box nature of the show’s horror through deliberate and effective choices. Many messages ring clear, but only one seems most fitting — without question, the Bolton is back in business.