‘Oedipus, the King’ In Review

Sarah Synk reviews the play 'Oedipus, the King', giving us a look at the story behind the production, and what it is like to put on a theater show during COVID-19.

By Sarah Synk

On Thursday, December 3rd Worcester State students got a chance to watch a wonderful play at the comfort of their own home called Oedipus, the King written by Sophocles and translated by Nicholas Rudall

Let us start with the summary of the play. It is about King Oedipus of Thebes, Maxwell Petrie, who is trying to do what’s right for his people due to something that is killing a majority of them; a plague. He sent his brother-in-law Creon played by Liam Carmody to find out what can stop this plague.  

Creon returns to say that the killer of their previous king, Laius, shall be killed in order to put an end to the suffering of the Thebans Oedipus then calls upon the blind prophet Tiresias, played by Belloraine Carey-Hicks, to tell him what he sees.

He says that he only knows the truth but wishes Oedipus not to know. Out of anger, Oedipus accuses Tiresias of killing Laius when the prophet reveals that he sees Oedipus as Laius’ murderer.  

After a ton of taunting, the blind prophet also reveals that the killer is both brother and father of the children of the deceased king.

Oedipus forms a story that both Tiresias and Creon are conspiring to overthrow him. Creon, totally surprised at Oedipus’ accusations against him, reveals he was the one who suggested consulting Tiresias.  

He then says he wants Creon murdered, even though Creon is trying to get him to admit he’s making things up.  Queen Jocasta, played by Julia Duggan, talks to Oedipus about the whole Creon situation and assures him that the prophecy is not true. She also says that the oracle told Laius he would be murdered by his son, while in reality his son was cast out of Thebes as a baby and Laius was murdered by highwaymen, just before Oedipus arrived in Thebes. Oedipus reveals to his wife that at a banquet, the oracle told Oedipus he’d kill his father and sleep with his mother, which made him flee and ultimately led him to Thebes. Hoping to seek further truth, Oedipus calls for the only survivor of the attack that killed Laius.  

A messenger played by Angie Morales then comes to visit Thebes looking for Oedipus to tell him that his father is dead. They suspect it to be of natural causes and once Oedipus hears the news, he’s relieved that part of the prophecy is in fact false. He’s still worried about the other half, sleeping with his mother. The messenger also explains he found Oedipus as a baby and said a shepherd gave him to the now King.  

Jocasta now thinks something is going to happen, but fails to prevent Oedipus from asking the shepherd. The shepherd, played by Vincent Pallegrino, the same one that survived the Laius murder attack, reveals the hard truth after Oedipus threatens him with torture. He says that the baby he gave to the messenger was from the son of Laius and was given to him by Jocasta to prevent a prophecy from coming true; the child would end up killing his father. 

The prophecy Oedipus feared did end up coming true. He killed his father and slept with his mother. Jocasta ends up hanging herself and Oedipus stabs his eyes out, refusing to see the world after he discovers the real truth. 

Creon, who is now ruler, agrees to exile Oedipus and as a final wish, Creon will raise his two daughters. Creon puts an end to their goodbye stating Oedipus now has no power. All throughout the events of the show, the chorus, played by Autumn Thebodo, Jade Pennington, Ann Elizabeth Wabba, Ryan Jerome, Angel Miguel Sotomayor, Ziray Dejeus, Ben Liebowitz, and Kristen Cuccoli, acts as narrators and witnesses the events of the tragedy of Oedipus, the King. 

Ironically enough, this Worcester State production takes place during our own treacherous times of COVID-19. It was interesting to see how the characters dealt with their own virus. They, like modern day America, were protesting against how Oedipus was ruling his own country. Some of the characters in the story were wearing masks in some of the scenes. 

With this play performed virtually, I wanted to know what it was like performing the play and what challenges the cast  had performing it. I wanted to ask Liam Carmody, who played Creon   what it was like. He mentioned that, “It was definitely weird to say the least. Myself and I’m sure a ton of my castmates found it to be a little off putting due to the fact that we couldn’t do the show onstage in front of a live audience like how we’d do things pre-COVID.”

After that, I decided to ask the actor of Oedipus himself, Maxwell Petrie. He misses being on stage and in person, which is totally understandable. Petrie felt like there is a lot of connection with the audiences when performing in person. Petrie said, “Personally, that’s my favorite part of doing live theater: the connection to the audience. There’s always a near palpable feeling of excitement and energy that emanates from the crowd and that was definitely something that I missed.” 

I can only imagine the devastation of them missing the thought of being on stage. I  

always loved seeing the expressions that the actors had presented on the stage itself. Another question I asked Carmody and Petrie is if they enjoyed playing their characters. With Carmody, he believed that he felt deeply connected to his character which as an actor,  is more important than ever. Carmody said that playing Creon was definitely challenging. According to Carmody, “I played Creon: brother of Queen Jocasta and therefore brother-in-law to Oedipus. This was a different kind of character from anything I’ve played before, but I definitely enjoyed the challenge of playing him.” Carmody himself should be proud he played such a character. He portrayed him very well. 

Then I asked Petrie if he enjoyed playing his character. Like Carmody, he stated that he enjoyed playing his character, and it was challenging playing the leading role of Oedipus. He explained to me,“ I played the character of Oedipus, who is the king of Thebes at this point in the story, and I absolutely loved playing him. His character is one that is very complex and layered, and it was a lot of fun trying to peel those layers back and understand why he does the questionable things he does and acts the questionable way he often acts.” 

After that, Petrie said that he met with Director Zahler and he figured out who Oedipus was. Director Zahler said they wanted to make Oedipus more modern. Zahler also wanted some ideas  of how the characters were supposed to act, and Petrie enjoyed spending time with the director to learn different ways to act out his part. 

The last question I asked them both is if they enjoyed being part of the play with it being virtual. With both of them being in the play, they got to go on campus with masks. They got to see their friends, in a socially distanced kind of way, and Carmody cherished that. Being with their cast and performing in person is the best feeling in the world. According to Carmody, “Just us being us and the little social interaction we did get, even if we were masked up, was greatly cherished.” Petrie enjoyed being filmed and  portraying different emotions in each scene. He liked being able to explore differences throughout the whole play. And lastly, he was able to get over his stage fright, which went unnoticed by me as I watched the performance which went unnoticed by me as I watched the performance.  According to Petrie, “I’d say that the part of this play that I found most enjoyable was the filming of it, and especially the few scenes that we got to film in person. Just being able to throw different emotions into a scene in each take was really cool.” Furthermore, he said, “After maybe our first day of shooting, I got over any of my stage fright or nervousness about performing in front of these people whom I had never really met before, and felt comfortable just making any choices that I thought felt right and then talking with Adam about them afterwards. It was a style of acting that I didn’t have any experience with, but I genuinely loved every moment of filming, and I hope that I get to do it again soon.”

I also interviewed Director Adam Zahler. I asked him, “Did you choose Oedipus, the King because of the pandemic, or was it something you had way before it and was just ironic?” Director Zahler replied, “Oedipus was on my mind back in March specifically because of the Pandemic. The choice was not an easy one, though. There were many things to consider. We had to figure out how to do a play when much of it would be done remotely. We considered radio plays as an easy alternative and I read 10-12 radio scripts.” 

We can only imagine the choices Director Zahler had to make. After that, he  provided me a question that I never even thought of asking him which was, “Should it be a comedy or should it be in the 2020 moment?” Furthermore, Director Zahler concluded that, “Should it be a comedy to take people’s minds off things or should we meet the 2020 moment. If we tried to answer at the moment, which of the many issues facing the world, our country, or our community should we address?”  

As a reviewer of the play, I thought it was a smart idea of Director Zahler to have a 2020 feel to the play. Later on, Director Zahler mentioned that he read 8-10 plays in total. He also told me that using Zoom is very common, and that is exactly what the play had accomplished using Zoom. 

Besides the play itself, there were many other things I liked about the performance. Firstly, the cast, crew, and director had a virtual talk on Youtube opening night, which I thought was very well done. I liked how they asked each cast member what their pronouns were. So now, if I meet them in person, I will use the correct pronouns. I want to be able to respect the person, and for further interviews, I know how to address them. I liked how Professor Zahler allowed the actors to be their true authentic selves, and albeit meeting through Zoom, I liked seeing the actors showing their utmost respect and acceptance. 

Secondly, in the talk back, I liked how there was a question of, “What was it like performing with a mask on? Was it challenging showing facial expressions/ emotions while acting?” presented in the live chat box during the virtual presentation. Angie Morales replied and I loved her response. 

Thirdly, I really liked watching it at home. Even though I miss seeing certain things on stage, I felt like this was a movie. I enjoy watching movies in my spare time. Watching it from the comfort of my own home enhanced their performances. Bonus? I got to watch Oedipus, the King in my  comfy pajamas, eat popcorn, and drink soda which I never got to experience at the physical theater itself. 

Fourthly, the last scene of the play was my ultimate favorite. We got to see Oedipus’ eyes bleed after he stabbed them with his wife’s brooch. They used fake blood, something which I’ve never seen in any play at Worcester State before. It had an eerie aspect to it, in ways I cannot even describe. I got all teary eyed at the end, because in a way, I showed empathy for Oedipus. I always learned in any kind of plays or literature, we want to see if we can share empathy for the characters. 

And lastly, I liked Oedipus, the King because I read Antigone by Sophocles in high school. That play had just about the same feel as this play, minus the plague. This play made me think about the time of being in English class, and looking forward to reading it. It was super complicated to understand, but because I was introduced to Sophocles in high school, I got a better understanding of  his written works in college. 

Lastly, I want to congratulate everyone in the play – you were all amazing, and I hope you get to celebrate your accomplishments and good cheer with your acting friends during the times of COVID-19 in social distancing fashion. Well done everyone! 

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