Teatro del Pueblo and Pangea take on 'Oedipus el Rey'

Categories: Theater
oedipus 2.jpg
Photo by Marc Norberg
This weekend at the Lab Theater, Teatro del Pueblo and Pangea World Theater open their production of Oedipus el Rey. Based on the work by Sophocles, this play is set in the California prison system and a Los Angeles barrio. Written by Luis Alfaro, a MacArthur Genius Grant winner, the piece contemporizes the ancient story in a political and spiritual way, according to Dipankar Mukherjee, artistic director of Pangea and director of the production.

What made you choose to do this play?

It's really a beautiful piece of literature and it's very relevant. It's so important that we do relevant work. Also, we chose it because of our collaboration with Teatro del Pueblo. It was the perfect piece because of the context.

How does the play, which takes place amidst the Chicano culture of Southern California and the California prison system, become relevant for a Minnesota audience? 
oedipus.jpg
Photo by Marc Norberg
There's a huge number of people of color incarcerated in this country. While the play is based in L.A, we also saw resonances and echoes of it in other parts of the country.  

It's especially troublesome for youth of color. A young person of color gets incarcerated for some stupid thing they did when they were 14. They're supposed to return as a contributing member of society, and they don't know how to re-engage themselves. A young person who has been through the system goes to look for a job, and they get asked if they have any history of incarceration. They can't get jobs, and they can't get admission into college.

Is it a political play?  

It's a deeply spiritual play that has political relevance. But it's also talking about indigenous religious healers, shamans. The Latino community is aware and acknowledges that spiritual legacy. But the play definitely has political overtones.  

What is the value of re-imagining classic texts?  

Classics live in our collective imagination and memory because we can relate to the texts in different ways. Oedipus is timeless, but it's not really poetic. It's muscular, tactile. Everybody in all parts of the world knows the story. Luis Alfaro takes this Greek myth and puts it in a contemporary context; it's almost a re-appropriation of the story. Are the youth struggling because they are fated? Can we never defy fate? Is everyone who is born in a poor neighborhood with schools that are closing going to have no chance to get out?  

Most school closings don't happen in economically well-to-do neighborhoods. They happen in poor neighborhoods. Are we harvesting failure? Poor children are not expected to get a proper education. These are contemporary questions.  
oedipus 3.jpg
Photo by Marc Norberg
Anything you'd like to add?

It's been a joy to work with different opinion leaders from the Latino community about questions of violence in prison and poor communities. We've engaged them in conversations about domestic violence. We as artists--our role when we present that onstage--are we reaffirming, or is there some intervention? What is our responsibility and what is legacy? It's absolutely an educational piece, and is also political and spiritual. 

Oedipus el Rey opens on Thursday, March 10 at the Lab Theater (700 N. First St., Minneapolis). Performances will be on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays at 4 p.m. There will be post-play discussions following Friday and Saturday performances, and the Saturday, March 26 performance will be ASL interpreted. Tickets are $12-$15, available at thelabtheater.org or by calling 612.333.7977. For groups of 10+, or to inquire about educational matinees, call 612.822.0015, ext 1.

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Oedipus’s makes his epic journey along Highway 99, venturing from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Oedipus struggles against his tragic fate, all the while accompanied by a chorus of prison inmates.

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