Avery Brooks, a former Othello at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC, returns to the capital nonprofit to play Oedipus in a unique, single-sitting telling of Sophocles' Theban trilogy, called The Oedipus Plays, opening Sept. 4.
Using a translation by Nicholas Rudall, director Michael Kahn, the company's artistic director now in his 15th season, is setting the ancient Greek tales in ancient Africa. The evening includes Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. Earle Hyman (Broadway's The Lady From Dubuque, TV's "The Cosby Show") will play Teiresius. Previews began Aug. 28. Performances continue to Oct. 21.
"I've wanted to do all three of thee plays together — from the fall to the redemption — for a very long time," Kahn said in a statement. "Like us, the Greeks of Sophocles' day knew well the basic Oedipus myth, and they would have seen the entire trilogy on one stage, in one night. I've always felt there was something about family, ritual and myth that's part of the African experience that is at the heart of these plays. The journey is not just Oedipus' but one of his sons and daughters as well."
In Oedipus Rex, the King seeks to solve a crime and uncovers his own shame, propelling him into Oedipus at Colonus, where he arrives a broken and dying man in a new town, accompanied by his daughters. In Antigone, his fiercely loyal daughter fights for a noble burial for her brother, Polyneices. The company includes Michael Genet (Lincoln Center's Northeast Local) as Creon, Petronia Paley (of The Shakespeare Theatre's Trojan Women in 1998-99) as Jocasta, Cynthia Martells (Broadway's Two Trains Running) as Antigone, with Regina Hilliard Bain, Antonio Barnett, Johnny Lee Davenport, Mercedez Tasharmba Mitchell, Will Pailen, Jovan Rameau, John Livingstone Rolle, Tracie Thoms, Charles Turner, Lance Williams and Aleah Windham. Also appearing are Gbenga Akinnagbe, Maurice Allain, Lolita Foster, Demetrius Gross, Paul Nicholas and David Lamont Wilson.
Designers for The Oedipus Plays are Charles McClennahan (set), Toni-Leslie James (costumes), Marcus Dilliard (lighting). Marlies Yearby choreographs. Baikida Carroll composed a new score for live ensemble, utilizing African instruments (conch shell, tambour, African harp, more). Musicians include George Fulginiti-Shakar (music director), Okyerema Asante and Robert Nothern, a.k.a Brother Ah.
Opening night is Sept. 4. Ticket range $14.50-$63. The Shakespeare Theatre is at 450 7th Street NW between D and E Streets, off Pennsylvania Avenue. For information, call (202) 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
The Greeks are hot in DC this fall: Arena Stage is opening its season with a single-night telling of Greek stories under the title, Agamemnon and His Daughters, drawing on plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. Molly Smith, Arena's artistic director, helms. Opening is Sept. 7.
— By Kenneth Jones