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A CurtainUp Review

This crisis is not your fault—It's been in the making for DECADES! There's nothing you could have done to prevent it and there's nothing you can do to make it pass more swiftly. It's a natural event: we're at the end of a cycle.—Jocasta

Fine! 'We're at 'the end of a cycle.' But we're not allowed to walk past people in distress as they're raped and starving by cycles.—Oedipus

Blind-Veanne Cox
Veanne Cox
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)
You never know what to expect from a Craig Wright play. It could be a crowd pleaser like his Pulitzer Prize nominated and much produced The Pavilion (one of four Pine City plays)). It could be a quiet or darkly comic rumination on death (the Six Feet Under TV series) , disasters like 9/11 (Recent Tragic Events), religion (Grace) or the Iraq War (Lady).

In his latest play, Wright tackles the familiar legend of Oedipus, the mythical King of Thebes who fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother and thus brought disaster on his city and family. It's a legend that's been told often and in many versions and was used by Sigmund Freud to identify incestuous urges as the Oedipus complex.

Wright's version streamlines the story to focus on the incestuous couple (Veanne Cox and Seth Numrich) and just one other character, a servant (Danielle Slavik). The time frame is still ancient Greece but the scene is distinctly NOW: The language is peppered with the "F" words . . . the red and black marital bedroom is a sleek and stark and cell phones figure prominently . . . no fancy costumes, just modern clothing or no clothes at all. Wright has also updated the situation so that a very visceral sex scene, turns Oedipus's self-mutilation into an assault by Jocasta and her suicide into murder.

If all this sounds right in line with the sort of gritty and often unsettling to watch plays Rattlestick Playwright Theater is noted for, so it is. and yet, the play's 80 minutes are dominated by long monologues and dualogues that give you a second hand report about what's happening, but not a full sense of the plague and poverty that have struck Thebes. In short, the streamlining robs this classic tragedy of its excitement and the contemporary language seems to scream: Look how this ancient tale echoes the blindness of our own leaders to confront their follies.

Veanne Cox, an excellent actress who seems to thrive on histrionic roles brings plenty of fierce desperation to the wife/mother who is blind to everything except protecting her immediate family unit. If that means killing her own brother Creon, so be it. A pragmatist in contrast to her son-husband's more idealistic kingship, she tries to assuage his guilty conscience and convince him to wait out the crisis outside their palace, a crisis which she views as just another cycle (a rather obvious allusion to this country's cycle of recessions). But Numrich, no slouch when it comes to histrionic acting, is not to be soothed — besides the sexual fire connecting this ill-fated couple is not so easily kept from turning into a wild fire.

Both Cox and Numrich are rail thin which I suppose suits these characters so consumed by long kept under wraps forbidden passion. However, one can't help wishing that the servant (Slavick stuck in a small, thankless role) who ends up representing the whole disillusioned populace of this kingdom, would actually bring in the food Jocasta ordered, that this battling Greeks would stop arguing and eat something before anorexia rather than their illicit lust does them in.

Director Lucie Tiberghien does her utmost to avoid the stasis inherent in this script. At one point she lets Oedipus and Jocasta burst into a dual primal scream that's a precursor to the bloody and sexually explicit climax. Unfortunately nothing quite works as it should. Blind is in no way a comedy, all this sturm and drang had members of the audience frequently burst into peals of laughter that I doubt the playwright, director or actors intended -- yet, what could they expect when they have a blind, Oedipus desperately reaching for his cell phone..

Unlike Neil LaBute's very original reworking of this mythical marriage in Wrecks (review), Mr. Wright seems to do better when he uses his own ideas as a foundation stone, as he did with Pavilion and his terrific last Rattlestick play, Lady.

Links to other Craigh Wright plays reviewed at curtainup:
Melissa Arcticbr> Mistakes Were Mad
Molly Delicious
The Pavilion
Recent Tragic Events
Blind by Craig Wright
Directed by Lucie Tiberghien
Cast: Veanne Cox (Jocasta), Seth Numrich (Oedipus) and Danielle Slavick (Maid)
Sets: Takeshi Kata
Costumes: Anne Kennedy
Lights: Matt Richards
Sound: Ryan Rumery
Music: Christian Frederickson
Props: Eugenia Furneaux-Arends
Stage Manager: Melissa Mae Gregus
Running Time: 80 Minutes without intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre 224 Waverly Place (off Seventh Avenue South Between West 11th and Perry Street) (212) 868-444
From 2/17/10; opening 2/25/10; closing 3/21/10
Monday, Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer February 21st press performance
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