Remember that cool kid in high school?
The one with the awesome jacket and that effortless edge. He was something of a rebel: used nasty language in just the right way. Made it all look so easy.
Now remember that other kid who tried to copy him? Same jacket, same foul language but he couldn’t quite pull it off? Ghost Road company’s latest show is like that second kid: cool stuff but can’t really pull the whole thing off.
The play “Jocasta: A Motherf**king Tragedy” is a take on the Oedipus tale from Jocasta’s point of view. Remember the fate of Oedipus - you’ll kill your father and marry your mother? The title, crude as it is, is oddly spot on.
Ghost Road, a long time Los Angeles ensemble company, has a deep history of doing modern retreads on Greek classics. The formula takes the bones of the Greek play and imagines what would these mythic characters be like today. What would Jocasta be like as a widower in jeans and a black tank top who falls for this younger rebel dude “Ed” who looks like he just stumbled out of a dive bar swigging from a pint of Ballantine’s?
As a formula, it’s fun. Especially if you know and love the original text.
Ostensibly, this production would seem to be an attempt to give voice to Jocasta and explain how really good sex was what made this strange relationship make sense. But just when you start to track that story other Greek tragic heroines appear on the periphery. Cassandra, the never-believed truth teller, appears with a dead crow in a skin tight black leather getup with steam-punk welding goggles.
Then Jocasta goes to confide in her gal pal Medea, who’s taking a sauna with an ankle monitor as if she’s at some really luxurious club fed that also happens to have yoga.
Then there are the terrifying trio of furies who serve as a chorus and keep bleating out “Warning” like a smoke alarm that’s low on batteries.
There’s a lot of ideas to this production.
Which isn’t a bad thing but it does keep the show from coalescing around a common theme. Just when the main story line picks up steam we find ourselves chasing a new thread and it’s not really clear what it’s all adding up to. We bounce between the Oedipus tale, a sort of commentary on the plight of women, and a series of foul-mouthed scenes that work a little too hard to shock without actually finding a gritty poetry. You won’t be alone if you begin to wonder what’s the central logic and gravity of the play?
All this is a shame because the production has some really lovely images and really strong design. There are moments that feel like a doorway to a powerful production - but we never really get to walk through it.
If you’re a huge fan of the Greeks, there’s enough here to chew on.
Ghost Road’s “Jocasta: A Motherf**king Tragedy” plays at Sacred Fools in Hollywood through February 10th.
For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theater Newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theater.