Veanne Cox, Seth Numrich, Danielle Slavick
There’s a blind-sighted quality to Craig Wright’s aptly titled Blind, a quasi-update of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex that’s currently playing at the Rattlestick Theatre, aiming high but achieving only a measure of success.
The play, set in a sleek modern hotel room (beautifully, if misguidedly, designed by Takeshi Kata), maintains the character names and settings from the Greek original, focusing on what happened in Oedipus’s and Jocasta’s bedroom while the events of Sophocles’s play were taking place.
As the play begins, Jocasta, bathing in a tub, drolly converses with Oedipus, who’s returned from downtown Thebes, where demands for the truth are being made by the people. While Oedipus is “slightly confused” (an understatement to say the least), Jocasta proclaims that their incestuous love for one another is “a natural event; we’re at the end of a cycle.”
The play proceeds with little character development, an endless string of conversations about the revelation of the truth between these two doomed lovers. When questioned about whether she knew Oedipus was her son from the start, at first she claims, “I just see that I love you.” The turn of the play comes when, at last, she admits that, “I didn’t know at first.”
That said, though the characters often indicatively display shifts throughout the course of the play, rarely do these developments seem to occur for any logical reason. A third character, that of a hotel maid, is merely a mouthpiece for the playwright’s ideas about class in society.
Wright’s update of the Oedipus story, ultimately, feels profoundly half-assed. Rather than writing a full-blown Greek tragedy, the playwright settles for a modern-style drama while retaining out-of-place elements from his source material. Why not just call the lovers Jo and Ed and create an entirely new experience for the audience? Or else why not write a bold modern tragedy in full-out Greek style. Wright’s diction throughout takes a high-minded tone that doesn’t quite fit with the aesthetic of the piece. Everything is too expository, and the dialogue typically feels stilted at best.
By the end of the play, Wright’s tepid script and graphic depictions of sex and violence have numbed the audience into submission. It’s difficult to shock a modern audience, and the depictions of incestuous sex and on-stage blinding don’t come close to evoking the reaction the playwright likely expects. What may be shocking on the page seems stultifying on its feet. Lucie Tiberghien directs the play with a level of constant activity that serves the play well, but there’s little that can be done to save the poor script on hand.
Even stage veteran Veanne Cox can’t quite make a character out of what she’s given. Infusing Jocasta with a certain icy quality, Cox resorts to queenly overacting. Thankfully Seth Numrich as Oedipus pulls through and delivers a sold performance despite the material he’s given; there’s a certain appealing vulnerability to his monarchical portrayal.
Though Wright’s play has at its core an intriguing idea, his own out-of-touch overwriting only serves to stunt his vision for a bold reworking of Greek tragedy. Rather than develop unique ideas from the characters’ inherent blindnesses, Wright makes use of his doomed Oedipus and Jocasta as dueling mouthpieces – Oedipus extolling the virtues of openness as Jocasta buries her head in the sand, not dissimilar from baffled audiences’ likely reactions to this misguided piece.