July 9, 2004





What ifs of an Oedipal afterlife


Ever wish one of those bleak Greek bloodbaths could end with a group hug rather than a body count? In "The Oedipus Tree," playwright/performer Tony Tanner imagines those unfortunate Theban royals Laius and Jocasta, and their accursed only child, Oedipus, coming to terms with their tragic destiny, as if in some afterlife family trauma clinic.


"This is going to be difficult," warns a tour guide (Scott Ryden) as he gingerly reveals some awful truths to the late Laius (Tanner). Most of these we see coming--that the stranger (Gregory Giles) who killed Laius in a senseless roadside altercation, then usurped his throne and his wife Jocasta's (Inger Tudor) bed, was the son Laius thought he'd dispatched as an infant.


There is one unexpected wrinkle here: that the Oedipal murder/incest curse was apparently brought on when Laius abducted Chrysippus (Adam Finkel) from a nearby town to be his personal boy toy. Who knew?


Despite a few jokes and some intriguing foreshadowing--blustering Creon (Edmund L. Shaff) and beatific Antigone (Anna Lanyon) square off, anticipating their own tragedy--Tanner doesn't play this alternative myth-making for laughs, or even for irony. Instead this modest modern-dress production, performed in an auditorium on the noisy grounds of West Hollywood's Plummer Park, is an earnest, static exercise in literary speculation, with an overlay of self-help pabulum. Laius even pronounces the purgatorial retrospective "empowering."


While giving this famously ruined family some psychological closure seems a fine gesture, as theater "The Oedipus Tree" remains stubbornly barren.

--Rob Kendt


"The Oedipus Tree," the City of West Hollywood and Bare Bones Theatre at the Great Hall, Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hollywood. 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 31. Free; suggested donation $10. (323) 461-5570. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.