Oedipus and Ubu

Tonight, we are pleased to present the second installment of THE THEBAN CHRONICLES, Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, directed by Maryanne Olson. In this complex, subdued, character study of a fallen hero searching for a place to rest, Sophocles, with superb subtlety and nuance, hones in on all the intricacies, contradictions, petty pride, and unspeakable offense, that make the house of Oedipus so captivatingly dysfunctional. Curtain is at 8, but we hope you will arrive early and have a beer.

Sitting in our rehearsal yesterday, I was struck by how odd it seems that the beginning of Oedipus at Colonus feels a lot like the end of our July offering at San Francisco Theater Pub, Afred Jarry’s UBU ROI.

UBU ROI incited riots when it was performed in Paris in 1896. Audiences were scandalized by Jarry’s bawdy, nihilistic lampooning of power in excess. I was midway through my translation of the play when we read Stuart’s adaptation of four plays that make up THE THEBAN CHRONICLES in his living room one weekend, and I was struck by how much Pere Ubu resembles the thuggish characters of these plays: Polyneices, who is both naive and abrasive, Eteocles, who is unabashedly currupt, and Creon, a brute using the state as a shield for his own weaknesses.

Discovering that cutting barb, the inner tragedy nestled beneath the playfulness and clownishness of Jarry’s language, has done a great deal to inform my adaptation. UBU promises to be a spirited affair – boasting a host of wonderful comic actors and deejayed by Wait What, whose mash up album The Notorious XX, has received international critical acclaim (learn more at http://www.waitwhatmusic.com/) – but what makes the play so raucous the danger of showing oppressors, of any time and era, for what they really are – foolish, haughty, bullying, and juvenile.

As we move forward with this play and the last two plays of the series, Seven Against Thebes and Antigone, it is striking to see how nobility and power diverge. The humbled Oedipus and the gentle Theseus in Oedipus at Colonus convey more majesty than the warlike Polyneices or Creon. In Seven Against Thebes, Eurydice and the chorus show true bravery in decrying the war. Finally, in Antigone, perhaps the most famous portrait of power and justice, simple decency and humanitarianism proves to be a more forceful weapon than the edicts of the state. In UBU ROI, likewise, the only character worth sticking up for (arguably) is the one who speaks the least – Bougrelas, the rightful heir to the throne, who in his first line recognizes and condemns Pere Ubu for the idiot he is.

Originally, we conceived these two projects – THE THEBAN CHRONICLES and UBU ROI – as contrasting performances: one old and one modern, one tragic and one comic, etc. The more I get into both, the more they seem like two lenses looking at the same object.

-Bennett Fisher and San Francisco Theater Pub

THE THEBAN CHRONICLES continues Monday, June 21 at the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, San Francisco, at Leavenworth) with a reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, directed by Maryanne Olson. Parts III and IV, Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, directed by Sara Judge, and Sophocles’ Antigone directed by Amy Clare Tasker, perform June 28 and 29 respectively. All shows begin at 8pm, and are free to attend.