Luis Alfaro's Oedipus El Rey takes the Greek tragedian Sophocles' Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex) and reimagines it as a modern-day story in a Los Angeles barrio. The play, which began life at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco five years ago, is now on stage at the Lyceum Theatre in an incendiary production directed by San Diego Repertory Theatre's Sam Woodhouse. In terms of tone and pacing, it's uneven, but the events of Oedipus El Rey, as in Sophocles' classic work, are devastating.
In both plays, a young king (in the Rep production, he's portrayed by Lakin Valdez, seen last year in El Henry, the memorable site-specific collaboration with La Jolla Playhouse), is doomed to murder his father, then marry his mother. As even most high-school scholars know, the impulsive Oedipus ends up literally blinded by the unspeakable truth.
This is a tale that's nearly 2,500 years old. Neither time nor the critical dissections of academics or Sigmund Freud has made it any less disturbing. The transfer of Oedipus' saga from ancient Greece to South Central L.A. doesn't dilute the foundation of the tragedy, though the intended infusion of street-gang energy isn't consistent.
Oedipus El Rey's prison scenes at the beginning of the play set a propulsive mood— fierce, unpredictable and often funny—that re-emerges whenever the inmate characters return to the stage. But once Oedipus meets Jocasta (Mónica Sánchez) and almost immediately beds her, melodrama washes over much of the high spirit. Theatergoers may not notice that, however: The nudity and lovemaking are frank and sensual, as they should be. The audience knows it's incest even if the characters don't, and the significance of that can't be minimized or PG-13'd.
Valdez is macho and properly agonized as Oedipus, while Sánchez oozes a haunted sexuality as Jocasta. In the lesser but critical role of the prophet Tiresias, Matt Orduña stands out even when he's only walking silently across the stage with his blind man's cane.
At times a hybrid of histrionics and barrio machismo, Oedipus El Rey is possibly overambitious. But it's a well-intentioned attempt to make relevant, and add some meanstreets blood and thunder to, a story written in—wow—430 B.C.
It runs through March 29 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $31- $75. sdrep.org
Heart of a Lion: A staged reading of a new play about a widower and his friend, a talking lion puppet, who try to unite three people who need love. It happens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. Reserve tickets at email@example.com.
My Children, My Africa: A staged reading of a play in which a star student and his caring teacher are at odds over how to affect political change in South Africa. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it happens on March 23 at the Encinitas Library. intrepidshakespeare.com
Rhinoceros: In playwright Eugene Ionesco's Theater of the Absurd work, a post-World War II comment on conformity, the inhabitants of a French town transform into rhinoceroses one by one. Opens March 20 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Sunset Park: A widow's Brooklyn apartment building is going co-op, and her adult children sow conflict when they see an opportunity to profit. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it opens March 21 at Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The White Snake: A play based on a Chinese fable about a snake that turns into a woman, falls in love and runs afoul of a mean ol' monk. Opens March 21 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Annie : A cute li'l orphan longs to find her parents and enlists a rich guy to help her. Presented by J*Company Youth Theatre, it runs through March 21 at the David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre in La Jolla. sdcjc.org/jc
Romeo and Juliet : Two teens fall in love and die because their stupid families are stupid and can't get along. Through March 21 at Grossmont College. grossmont.edu/campus-life/arts-culture/theater-arts
The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel : Director Tom Salamon's latest immersive theater experience takes audiences in and out of various rooms and other spaces inside one of San Diego's coolest hotels. Presented by La Jolla Playhouse, it runs through March 22 at the Lafayette Hotel in University Heights. lajollaplayhouse.org
Love, Loss, and What I Wore : A series of monologues written by Nora and Delia Ephron, performed by five women, in which clothing is the focal point of life stories. Presented by Philip Roger Roy and Dana Matthow, it runs through March 22 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
The Twenty-seventh Man : It's 1952, and Stalin has jailed 26 luminaries of Yiddish literature. The story truly begins when No. 27 arrives behind bars. Through March 22 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.com
Oedipus El Rey : A modern take on Sophocles' classic tragedy, set not in ancient Greece but, rather, in a Southern California barrio. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through March 28 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Anna in the Tropics : Tolstoy's Anna Karenina becomes a catalyst for workers in a Florida cigar factory in 1929. Through March 29 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Baby with the Bathwater : In this comedy by Christopher Durang, a couple of not-so-great parents produce a child who grows up struggling with identity issues. Through March 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Chapter Two : A man whose wife died recently and a woman whose marriage has just ended aren't sure they're ready to start dating. You either love Neil Simon or you hate him. Through March 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
God Committee : In this drama, seven people must decide which one of four individuals on a transplant waiting list will get a heart that has suddenly become available. Through March 29 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
Goodbye Charlie : A womanizing writer is murdered by an angry husband and is reincarnated immediately as a beautiful woman (Lauren Bacall in the original play, Debbie Reynolds in the movie). Through March 29 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
You Can't Take it with You : Zany characters abound, and kooky things keep happening, in the home of Paul and Penny Sycamore. Through March 29 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Kin : Playwright Bathsheba Doran explores the families of Anna and Sean, who meet on an online dating site. Presented by Ion Theatre, it runs through April 4 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Our Lady of the Tortilla : Hijinks—and an examination of faith—ensue when a New Jersey woman sees an image of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla. Through April 4 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
My Fair Lady : A man attempts to turn a rough-around-the-edges girl into something more sophisticated—and then develops the hots for her. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through April 26 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Pirates of Penzance : Nine actors stranded on a desert island perform Gilbert and Sullivan's classic comic opera. Through April 29 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat : In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an "amazing" garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through May 31 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me : Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net