Review

'Oedipus Machina' at the Odyssey Theatre is classic yet inventive

'Oedipus Machina' renders Sophocles' classic drama in accessible speech, still evokes its poetic grandeur

Back in ancient Greece, Oedipus set the gold standard for mommy issues. Nowadays, though, his story can seem to hit the stage lugging three millennia worth of psychological baggage — a Dr. Phil segment with sandals. All the more reason to appreciate the fresh, contemporary take in director Ron Sossi and his Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s imaginative adaptation, “Oedipus Machina.”

Ellen McLaughlin’s 2005 text renders the dramatic structure and plot points of Sophocles’ classic drama in clear, accessible speech while still evoking its poetic grandeur, albeit at the cost of occasionally overstating the obvious.

Amid the drama’s seriously messed up parent-child relationships, this version puts heightened emphasis on the inexorability of fate — in particular, the ways in which the steps taken to avoid prophetic doom are the very actions that bring it about. The implacable machinery of destiny is Sossi’s central staging concept (hence the title).

Anchoring a fine cast, charismatic Joshua Wolf Coleman exudes the good intentions of a benevolent monarch; what his Oedipus lacks in original sin, though, he more than makes up in hubris.

Believing himself blessed by the gods in having lucked into the vacant throne of Thebes, he pursues dangerous truths despite warnings from queen mother Jocasta (Dey Young) and the blind seer Tiresias (Lorinne Vozoff) — even making a scapegoat of his brother-in-law, Creon (Martin Rayner), when he doesn’t like where the path leads.

In bearing witness to the ensuing tragedy, a well-synchronized chorus effectively treads the delicate line between individualism and lockstep herd mentality.

Sossi’s ahistorical staging is an eyeful, whimsically mixing design elements of ancient civilizations with sci-fi gadgetry — the centerpiece of Keith Mitchell’s set is a kind of revolving geodesic igloo that teleports the principal characters into the action. An enormous sphere serving as an interior projector screen provides an ingenious visual rationale for Oedipus’ solution to the problem of seeing too much. As the novelist John Barth put it more recently, self-knowledge is always bad news.

“Oedipus Machina,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (dark July 4). Ends July 26. $34 ($10 on June 5 and 19 and July 2 and 8. (310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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