Comparing Oedipus

Two reviews by Caterina Barone
Univesity of Padova
Padova, Italy

King Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
Translated by Dario Del Corno
Directed by Glauco Mauri
With Glauco Mauri and Roberto Sturno

Carcano Theatre
For information: 02/455181377

In 1983 Glauco Mauri (actor and director), and Dario Del Corno (Hellenist and translator) addressed the myth of Oedipus, performing King Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonus in a memorable version. After ten years, Mauri and Del Corno have created a sort of 'Oedipus project', in four phases: a lecture by Del Corno on the theme 'Oedipus between Text and Scene'; a recital, 'Oedipus and Music', for pianist Giovanni Vitaletti, for bassist Davide Baronchelli, and for magnetic tape; a two-act performance of the two tragedies; and lastly another recital, 'From Parricide to Pope, or, Oedipus' Transformations' (a collection of texts from every time and every country, in a non-chronological sequence from Elsa Morante to Freud, from Cocteau to Seneca ) with Glauco Mauri, Roberto Sturno, Elena Ghiaurov and Stefania Micheli, and some interruptions by Dario Del Corno.

Such a diversified work underlines the complexity of a dilemma which it is useless to try to solve: that of Oedipus'consciousness or unconsciousness when he kills his father Laius unintentionally and then marries his mother Jocasta, begetting a monstrous family of sons-brothers. According to Del Corno, the antithesis can be resolved by the ambivalence of Oedipus' destiny: in his story there is 'an indissoluble union of subjective reasons and a predestination both objective and uncontrollable.' The hero's story becomes an emblem of human limitation which rebels against the anxiety of an Absolute. From the frustration of this yearning, 'the inevitability and constraint normally known as destiny' is produced.

In the performance, under a deep blue sky, the scene is dominated by an enormous stone head--a sort of totem--which seems to devour the protagonist, and by the end shows two horrible void orbits: it reveals the inevitability of Oedipus' destiny and the evil inherent in power. The hero, lying half-naked under the 'mortal' totem, is sleeping, tormented by nightmares: the initial lamentations of the chorus, recited partly in Greek, invoking the king's help in time of plague, touch the conscience of Oedipus by means of the torpor of his dream. In Mauri's interpretation, the proud confidence of the hero, who believes he can help the people against the plague, is replaced by the same restlessness that upsets the protagonist in Seneca's tragedy, and begins in the prologue. Tormented by terrible predictions, Oedipus never stops struggling against the rapidity and relentlessness of events. In the protagonist's attitude a mixture of free will and predestination is apparent: he is strongly inclined to act according his own will, from which he is always forced to deviate by a transcendent, irresistible power. Sometimes he is moved by proud nerve and sometimes by ruinous blindness, but his choices are always led by an ineluctable desire to know and understand reality in a complete way.

To show the 'cognitive investigation' of Oedipus, the direction relies more on words than on gestures, reducing the movements onstage as much as possible, doing away with the entrances and exits of the various characters. Wrapped in large dresses--brown like the warm ground of Greece in King Oedipus, and white in Oedipus at Colonus--the actors, always present among the chorus, enter and exit from their roles, emerging and then hiding again among the large folds of their dresses. In the first part of the performance the visual 'essence' of the scene was represented by the royal palace/totem. So in the second part everything is placed statically around the sacred stone of the Eumenides, where Oedipus has taken shelter. The exaggerated stillness of Oedipus at Colonus, due also to Del Corno's effective translation, gives a dramatic unity to the text, arousing emotions which culminate in Oedipus' final apotheosis. The existential journey of Oedipus, his long road from Thebes to Colonus, is a painful path ending, according to Mauri, with peace and the understanding that 'man is responsible only for the deeds he wants to act'.

Photo Credit

Photograph by Tommaso Lepera, Studio Le Pera, Largo dei Colli Albani, 40, 00179 Roma

King Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

Translated by Raul Montanari
Directed by Antonio Sixty

Teatro Out Off
For information: 02/39262282

Sixty's performance is structurally different, estranged, anti-traditionalist, but noteworthy as far as its coherent rigor is concerned. Leaving out a psychological interpretation and 'setting to zero' the memory of Oedipus' cultural past, Sixty has found a 'personal' interpretation of the tragedy, emphasizing evil and the human inability to overcome it. Oedipus has vanquished the sphinx and freed Thebes from fear; he himself becomes a new danger for the city. He is a dark hero who cannot find deliverance, even in self-punishment. Unlike Mauri's Oedipus, he is not surrounded by solidarity: those living around him are the protagonists of a performance recited against him. Closed in their solitude, the characters talk without watching each other, unable to communicate.

In the first part the actors and actresses are wearing black dinner-jackets made ridiculous by oversize cuffs. Their faces are heavily made up, and the white of the skin contrasts with the black of the eyes and brightness of the lips. In this way they become very similar to the characters of a 'noire' comic. Their puppet- like gestures are in a continuous state of transformation: Creon hides Jocasta inside himself; Tiresias, whose blindness is a convenient sham, becomes the messenger.

The set consists of an enormous black cube, occupying the whole space, with a central opening at the top, a sort of abyss where the actors sink or emerge by peculiar and unnatural movements. Everything is frozen: words, gestures and even blood do not seem to flow (blood is symbolized sporadically by red buttons, red gloves and red ties). In a certain sense evil is like the 'Mafia', as Montanari underlines in his able translation: 'who is sought for is found early, and who is not sought for lives in peace'; '...if you are silent to protect a friend'. The social reality is marked by conspiracy and by a ruinous withholding of information until it seems convenient to disclose it. Nobody speaks about Laius' death, but at the right time an anonymous letter reveals to Oedipus his terrible fate. The recognition that destiny strikes men hard is bitterly underlined, as is the truth that men are not able to find the force to fight it either inside themselves or in the other people.

In Oedipus at Colonus the protagonist is bound to a sort of primitive wheelchair, an emblem of his desperate motionlessness towards his own tragic destiny. His relation with his sons, and the relation of the sons among themselves, is morbid: the malediction of the incest falls on the whole stock. At the end of his days Oedipus will not be able to achieve that peacefulness he so greatly desires; the awareness that nothing can oppose the power of fate brings the king of Thebes to an absolute nihilism: it would be better not to be born, or, once born, to return immediately to the place where we came from. This negative interpretation, excluding all hope or illusion, is a dark picture of a time very much like our own, a time that seems to be governed by evil, with no possibility to escape from it.

Caterina Barone
University of Padova
E-mail: baronec@ipdunidx.unipd.it