It’s easy to see why “The Curse of Oedipus,” now at the Antaeus Theater, was originally intended to be presented over the course of two evenings.
Not only does playwright Kenneth Cavander sample liberally from Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle, he also echoes Euripides’ “The Bacchae” as well as filtering various legends and fragmentary texts of the period.
Cavander’s undeniably ambitious recapitulation chronicles Oedipus’ ascent to the throne of Thebes; his fateful downfall; his subsequent exile; the fratricidal feud between his sons, Polyneices and Eteocles; and finally, the courageous attempts of his daughter, Antigone, to accord the disgraced Polyneices an honorable burial.
Throughout it all, the gods Apollo and Dionysus function as a sort of Olympian chorus, pointing out the duality of man in frequently comical interchanges emphasizing their clashing principles.
To say that Cavander, an Oxford-educated playwright with a background in world myth, has overreached, seems cavilling. Yet his tragic sprawl packs so much into such a concentrated time frame that it takes on a CliffsNotes simplicity. As an introductory primer to a complicated cycle, it’s prime stuff. As a single drama, it’s a bit much – a flurry of compounding tragedies that wears thin.
Director Casey Stangl is to be commended for the sheer logistical ingenuity of this massive undertaking, which features two casts of 20-plus actors playing alternate performances.
That the sheer proliferation of bodies doesn’t swamp the small stage is testament to Stangl’s compositional skills. Yet even Stangl eventually falters, allowing some performers to lapse into shrieking stridency. Exceptions to the general histrionics include Terrell Tilford as Oedipus and Tony Amendola as Creon, both authoritative.
The design elements set an appropriately somber mood, heavy on the fog machine. François-Pierre Couture’s set features a web-like snarl of thin ropes through which the actors duck and clamber – a blatantly symbolic background that is, like much of this production, simply overdone.
“The Curse of Oedipus,” Antaeus Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Dark July 4. Ends Aug. 10. $30-$34. (818) 506-1983. www.Antaeus.org. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.