Produced by Natural Theatricals
Reviewed by Debbie M. Jackson
Jocasta has the markings of a fine production in the making. An adaptation of Oedipus set in the tropical West Indies in the 1890’s, the piece repackages the old adage-you can run but you can’t hide from your fate and destiny. The pulsating rhythms of African drum beats and vocals echoing in the cavernous amphitheater serve as wonderful foreshadowing of ensuing clashes between cultures even before the scene begins. It’s an intriguing concept, and we so want it work. Unfortunately, for every mark it hits, the show slides back a step, misses opportunity for solid traction and thus never quite delivers up to its potential.
It starts with a bang – a fight scene. In an interesting bit of choreography, Jebe, a young plantation worker, well played by Cezar Remon, murders his overseer, Jason McIntosh, who gets off the floor and repeats the fight sequence with his killer, in a kind of slow motion reverse action, shadow box format enticing questions of “what if.” It’s an interesting creative touch, but the magical moment is spoiled when the dead guy is pulled into duty to help change the set (which takes far too long) for the next scene. The next passage with Gabou the griot, played by Terry Spann also has great potential-in full ritual fabulous costuming by Mio Hasegawa, eyes blanked out and rolled back, palsied trembling hands, he sets up Yebe’s voodoo-inspired trance but, once the young man returns to this world, the rest of the scene kept going indulgently. This is just one example of many signs of inadequate direction by Gregory Stuart -there seemed to be no one at the helm to assure a solid pace and focus on this complex story.
Jocasta changes the traditional point of view from that of the son to that of the mother, and focuses on her life events and how she got into the awful mess. The script tries valiantly to bridge extremely large gaps to provide motivation for Jocasta to take on the young lover in the first place. It does a decent job setting us up through the discussions of the other characters, the befriended household maid, a family friend as potential love interest, with whispers and queries about the comings and goings of a young, black man visiting the household at night. Roslyn Ward delivers a fun turn as Dodotte, the young servant girl the most realistic object of his attention, and Lolita-Marie as the trusted Cyrillia consistently displays scene-stealing strength. Still, the gap becomes an unbridgeable chasm that a well bred woman would take on a poor young lover and a more ludicrous stretch since he is black.
The script tries to tackles the issue from several perspectives, for example, using social commentary by pointing out that white men take on lovers of all classes, and trying to show Jocasta’s pure openness to life’s experiences. The script even offers a psychological aspect to her attraction by having her recall the tiny brown face of her newborn before he was whisked away as stillborn. Again, interesting and valiant efforts, but still not enough to offer any serious motivation for Jocasta’s actions.
The most powerful concept in the Greek tale is Oedipus’ desperate attempt to escape the prediction of his fate, taking careful and deliberate steps to eliminate any possibility of committing the heinous acts that the gods have predicted –not just what will happen to him, but that he will commit through his own acts of will, and in his efforts to alter his destiny, he runs smack dab into them. Instead, the script focuses on the sordid acts themselves without even a hint of interest in the underlying messages of control of one’s destiny or fate, thus missing the heart of the story and focusing on the Jerry Springer details, with unsatisfying results.
Finally, while the actors were acceptable, the weight of the ponderous (nearly three-hour) production hangs on the actress playing the role of Jocasta to pull it all together. It’s a massive role with huge psychological stretches that demand a forceful presence from the time she steps on stage to her tragic end. While comfortable enough on stage, Paula Alprin still comes off as rather stiff, the island accent was not believable, and her emotional range was limited to stark expressions of disbelief. With all the missteps already in the production, most notably a woeful lack of direction, the lack of a captivating main character drags the whole evening. By the end, you’ve felt the weight of a tragedy, but not for the right reasons.
Jocasta, playing at the The George Washington Masonic National Memorial
101 Callahan Drive
Alexandria, Virginia 22301
Main Voice – 703-683-2007
Through November 18th. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets: $22. 703-739-9338 www.naturaltheatricals.com