May 2007 Archives

Oedipus Complex at Goodman Theater Chicago

"Oedipus Complex" is the work of director Frank Galati and places 20th century Sigmund Freud alongside Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex. In it the narrative swings back and forth between Freud's Viennese lecture hall crammed with sober students before whom he contemplates his own childhood experiences and a full-blown recreation of the Oedipus tragedy. The parallels and implications which emerge through the interplay of the two are significant and insightful, though I confess I had to apply myself rather vigorously through what seemed to me to be a rather dry and uneventful drama to arrive at them.

The play was presented at the Goodman Theater where I have seen top-notch adaptations of classic plays after which I walked away quite moved and impressed, and so I expected the same from Oedipus Complex. But the effect of this play was quite the reverse, leaving me with a feeling that I had experienced too many weaknesses in the production to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The primary thorn in my side throughout was the far less than impressive performance of Ben Viccellio playing Oedipus who displayed neither the dramatic presence nor emotional depth to bring his central character to life. I've recently seen several similar plays , whether purely classical adaptations or contemporary-classical hybrids in which the actors playing the lead roles nearly exploded on stage with vibrancy and tragic convictions. But Viccellio's Oedipus was wholly disappointing to the point of his shortcomings being so pronounced that they overshadowed my entire experience. Instead of a fiery self-driven man of power shaking his fists at the Gods of Fate, we got a limp-wristed stoic whose every line seemed to end with a whimper as if to say "Believe me, please!".

One thing of value I did derive from this was a keener insight into Freud's use of the Oedipus figure and how Sophocles' original tale does in fact speak to contemporary situations. As to whether or not Freud's sexuality-centric application of the tale represents this relevancy is wholly up for grabs.