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Opening scenes of plays or any piece of performance work allows the audience to enter into the world seamlessly; the world of the play can be built through the dynamic between the actors and the audience and the exposition itself. In the original script of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, there is no opening exposition of a back story. At the time of its original productions, the audience would have known the story of Oedipus and how he and the city of Thebes came into the position of troublesome times. The opening dialogue is between Oedipus and the Priest; this gives the feeling of vulnerability for Oedipus as he laments about how he can save his people by engaging in a private conversation with the Priest. However, his version leaves a divide between the people and Oedipus, giving a more accurate description of the historical hierarchy but leaving a disconnect to the king and his people. In Oedipus: A New Version, the adapted script by Ellen McLaughlin, the play opens to an unidentifiable voice that states a riddle. The unknown voice threatening you to “Tell me or die. One by one. Tell me and die. One by one,” (McLaughlin, 73) followed by an ambiguous cry gives the eerie feeling leading into the rest of the opening scene where Oedipus speaks to the Chorus of their woes since the defeat of the Sphinx. The scene, in contrast to the original text, raises the stakes as the audience feels the impending doom of an omnipotent power before they describe the horrors of their current state to their king in an open setting. In Oedipus Rex, the adapted script by Gay H. Hammond, the opening is played as a multilayered prologue. The actors are less used as characters but as a unit signifying the gods to describe what has transpired.
“CHORUS(MES): A place where three roads meet.
ALL: A crossroads. [stomp or clap]
CHORUS(MES): There is a story that two men came to a crossroads all at once, so neither man could pass.
CHORUS(OED): And neither man would yield.
CHORUS(TEI): And one was young, and one was old, but both alike
ALL: Both alike
CHORUS(TEI): In arrogance and strength.” (Hammond, 6)
This is similar to the McLaughlin piece where the opening is met with an all-knowing narrator; however, the latter is less of a malicious voice and more of an indifferent, powerful voice. While the other two scripts allow the feeling of vulnerability and impending calamity to respectively shine through, Gay H Hammond’s script approaches the audience immersion without overwhelming the audience with the shock of a naked baby, or detached imagery of a shrine.
The major changes that affect the overall feeling of the respective scripts are the depictions of violence and death. In the original text, the deaths in the story were enacted off stage, which led to an actor coming on stage to describe the death to the audience. In contemporary adaptations, the stark reality of death can be realized on stage. In McLaughlin’s script, we see the death of Jocasta and the mutilation of Oedipus under the Chorus’ speech,
“It thinks it can be safe.
It thinks. It thinks.
It thinks it can be happy.
It thinks that something of it will last.
(Jocasta hangs herself, using the strips of the sheets as a rope.)
Listen to it muttering.
Telling stories in the dark.” (McLaughlin, 129-130)
By hearing the Chorus speak about Oedipus as a baby while the image of the baby reappears on stage, the realization of Jocasta creating her own noose gives the audience a jolting feeling of dread as they sit and listen as the Chorus imitates that could be going through Jocasta’s head in the process of her own suicide and eventually the voices of the gods. This gives a different dimension to the character of Jocasta rather than giving a single dimension death of a gender-restrictive script from the Ancient Greek. For the action of blinding Oedipus, we again see Oedipus taking the brooches and stabbing his eyes out under the continued lamentations of the Chorus in McLaughlin’s adaptation.
(His back to the audience, Oedipus hold the brooches up.)
We wish we’d never seen you.
(HE plunges the brooches down into his eyes. Full blackout.)
God forgive us all.
(Once again he hold the brooches up.)
You gave us the light.
Now you plunge the world into darkness.” (McLaughlin, 130)
This lighting direction of literal darkness is a bold choice, but it seems to forced in Greek theatre. If keeping to the similar ideologies of Greek theatre, there wouldn’t be any fancy lights; the lighting would be natural lighting. The original text and the poetic adaptation does not need a literal punch in the face for the audience to understand the metaphorical blindness of Oedipus to the truth. For this, I prefer Hammond’s script where the audience does not directly see the blinding, similar to traditional Greek theatre:
“Don’t see this monster trapped within my flesh.
Put out the sun! No light should touch me, none
Should have to see what I’ve become, what I
Gods, no! What I have always been. [HE does to JOCASTA’S body and withdraws the brooches]
No light, no hope, put out the light of me
Let darkness eat me. [HE blinds himself]” (Hammond, 58)
The audience hears Oedipus and his mindset as he blinds himself after understanding the aftermath of his sin- the death of his mother and lover. It’s truthful to the story without taking the audience out of that world with wild symbolic technical cues.
As an actor, Hammond’s adaptation allows more of a challenge and artistic collaboration. The structure of the script keeps propelling the story further, cutting the unnecessary dramatic fluff. Staggered lines forces actors to constantly be listening to each other, and therefore engaging in the scene and the story they are telling. The Performance Studies tactics used in the Chorus gives a different layer to the storytelling by using vocal variety to insinuate the consciences of the main characters or the people of Thebes.
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