The Revelry Players make their debut in Wilmington at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with “Oedipus Wrecked”—an adaptation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex.” It is interactive theatre, sort of like dinner theatre where the audience is expected to get pulled up on stage and periodically singalong or pantomime something. The audience participates in “Oedipus Wrecked,” and alcohol plays a big part in it (hence the setting of a bar).
The script has been seriously cut down and turned into a drinking game that includes the possibility of the audience buying the performers’ drinks. So when the tension is really mounting and the plot is advancing, the bartender can (and does) interrupt the action to announce a drink for one (or more) of the actors.
Revelry founder Rebekah Carmichael loosely adapted the script from Sophocles’ play that is believed to date around 420 BC. She also serves as the prompter for the evening and sort of the Greek chorus’ guide, especially since part of the chorus is selected for the audience. In Greek theatre a chorus usually provided exposition, commentary and moved along the action.
We meet Oedipus, King of Thebes (J. Robert Raines). Thebes has got problems: plague, followed by plague, with more plague forecasted for next week. In an effort to figure out what is going on, he asks his brother-in-law, Creon (Grace Carlyle Berry) to ask Apollo’s Oracle for some guidance. According to Creon, the unsolved murder of the former King, Laius, is the root of the problem. It sets in motion an internal investigation that includes Teiresias (Steve Vernon), a blind prophet, and Jocasta (Steve Vernon)—Laius’ widow and now Oedipus’ wife—and also a servant who bore away a child many years earlier to be killed (also Steve Vernon).
Just to clarify, yes, Vernon gets some great wig action in this show. Slowly, Oedipus unravels, in spite of what he believes to be the truth of his childhood and upbringing. He actually has killed his father and married his mother (Jocasta), with whom he has fathered children. So, seriously, if there is a guy who should be spending time in a bar, drowning his sorrows in a bottle, it is Oedipus. He might have a corner on that market—or at least that bar stool.
It’s a tough script and is made far funnier than possibly imagined. Think of “Drunk History” crossed with “SNL” and a little bit of a party for a fraternity that only pledges classics majors. I have to admit, I came to this of two mindsets: the snob in me had an expected reaction, but the other side of me said, “Well, if it gets people interested in Greek theatre, then all the better.”
This is not a serious production by any stretch of the imagination, but I did really believe Raines’ struggle by the end of the show far more than I expected. He managed to be self-satisfied, terrifying and terrified, all while constantly breaking character for a call to the bar or a laugh. Neither he nor the other cast members actually lost the story. Yes, they laughed. Yes, they broke character, but they didn’t lose the energy or story, and the audience was engaged with them through it all.
To be quite honest, it is one of the most stressful evenings of theatre I have had in a very long time … and I mean that with praise. Raines inspires genuinely conflicting emotions and Berry’s Creon—though largely a pastiche of gangsters and irritating in-laws—is someone for whom we wind up feeling a lot of sympathy. Who is this asshole that married his sister and is now somehow responsible for a plague? Who does he think he is to pull rank on Creon and bully him in such awful ways, then tell lies about him to Jocasta? Seriously, if Creon turned around and ran Oedipus through with a sword, the audience would feel justified. Vernon’s assortment of creepy trolls for Teiresias and whimsical fairies for Jocasta are absurd but also necessary comedic relief. The audience actually can learn the story of Oedipus through this show—and drink to excess, which, again, seems an appropriate response.
We are in an interesting time of transition for theatre in Wilmington. TheatreNOW just opened their final show. “Oedipus Wrecked” is at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot—i.e. the old Browncoat Pub & Theatre. In a weird way, it is like new life is taking shape and shining a light on what could be. If this is an example of what the Revelry Players plan to produce—classics as interactive drinking shows—I both hope for and foresee a bright future.
In the meantime, get to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and discover that Greek tragedy is far more fun than expected. Cheers.
Sundays, 6 p.m., through July and August
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, 111 Grace St.
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