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The Oedipus Cycle Traverses New Hampshire

By Sarah Liebowitz; A&E Editor
On March 9, 2017


Stories of murder, incest and exile will continue to plague the Hanaway Theatre this weekend, when Plymouth State wraps up this season’s Greek Project with their production of “Oedipus the King.”

The Greek Project is a collaboration between Plymouth State, Keene State, and the University of New Hampshire. Each institution produced a play from Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle.

The project works like this: each school performs their play on their home campus. At some point, they pack up their costumes, hop on a bus, and take the show on the road. By the end of the tour, each school will have performed on their own stage, as well as at the two other schools.

The Oedipus Cycle was written by Sophocles in Ancient Greece.

When the plays come alive on stage, audiences witness a living artifact of theater history. “The Greeks are really responsible for why theater is the way it is today,” said Cam Downing, dramaturge of PSU’s “Oedipus the King.”

The plays are revamped with contemporary translations, and drip with the political context that surrounds modern-day audiences, but the story has stayed the same for over 2,000 years. It’s amazing how relevant it is today.

Chronologically, “Oedipus the King” is the first play in the cycle. It tells the story of king Oedipus, who is haunted by a terrible prophesy. Oracles say that Oedipus will kill his father and sleep with his mother. Meanwhile, the city of Thebes suffers a deadly plague. The plague will only end when someone finds the murderer of Laius, their former king.

Oedipus spends the play searching for the murderer, running from his fate, and seeking out the secret of his birth. As the pieces fall together, Oedipus realizes that fate is inescapable.

Plymouth State’s production of “Oedipus the King,” directed by Elizabeth Daily, is inspired by recent protests including Occupy Wall Street and the Women’s March. The production uses an accessible translation by Nicholas Rudall, and features contemporary costumes.

Cast members were asked to bring in a piece of clothing that they might take to a protest. Many of these personal items made their way into the final costume design.

“Oedipus at Colonus” is the next play in the cycle, which was performed by UNH. The story follows Oedipus as he wanders in exile with his daughter, Antigone. The production uses a poetic translation by William Butler Yeats, and makes use of masks and haunting music.

Keene State performed “Antigone,” the last play in the cycle. The play explores the conflict between Creon, the current king of Thebes, and Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter. Creon condemns Antigone to death for disobeying his laws, but the tragedy that insures is beyond his wildest imagination.

All three productions were staged on the same set. Each school built an identical set on their home stage, which took some of the hassle out of touring. That way, there was no need to move the set from location to location.

Set designer Matt Kizer describes the set as a “director’s playground,” with ramps, rotating panels, and a neutral paint job. It is flexible enough to suit each director’s needs.

The productions all include a Greek chorus, an essential part of Ancient Greek theater. The chorus is a synchronized group of performers who comment on the action on the play. Contemporary directors find creative ways to integrate this collective voice into the production, often making use of synchronized speech and movement.

The Greek Project happened once before, in 2007. The idea came from David Kaye, chair of the department of theater and dance at UNH. The idea was to bring together the three schools from the University System of New Hampshire. The project offers a unique opportunity for the students in the three theater departments, who don’t often come into contact with one another.

It took about two years of planning before the first Greek Project came into being. In 2007, Plymouth State performed “The Trojan Women” as part of that season’s trilogy.

This year’s project also took about two years of planning. Plymouth State opened their show at UNH on February 24, and performed again at Keene on Mach 4.

The cast has returned to their home campus to tell Oedipus’ tragic story once again.

“Oedipus the King” will run March 10-11 at 7 p.m., and March 11-12 at 1 p.m., in the Hanaway Theatre at PSU’s Silver Center for the Arts. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, or online at silver-center. 

Keene State's performance of Antigone.


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