NoExit's rendition of Oedipus Rex - staged on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art as part of the company's month-long performance of Sophocles's Theban Plays - was exciting, unpredictable and ultimately, a bit of a disappointment.
The core issue was that director Michael Burke didn't really deliver on a promise in his program notes to rework Oedipus Rex as a "reality TV public scandal," with the Chorus treated as "superfans who love nothing more than calamity befall the corrupt."
That approach might've worked; however, save for a choppy opening, most of the script was drawn from a translation of Sophocles's text that retained the rhythms we associate with classical drama, without significant reinvention of the material. I never felt like I was on a TV set or cavorting with the rich and famous; it still seemed like the same Oedipus Rex as it has existed for millennia.
Thus, because we were still in the world of classical drama, the superfans - who were the play's most significant novelty, save for a dance sequence and introduction inspired by P.T. Anderson's Magnolia (a left-field touchstone for the adaptation) - came off as annoying in an unedifying, other-worldly way, interrupting the action with lines such as, "You're gonna vomit when you see what happens next," and compromising any dramatic momentum.
In the plus column, we did get creatively staged scenes, sometimes viewed from off-kilter angles (say, with spectators watching action on the lawn from a balcony 20 feet above); the kind of clever, homespun props one comes to expect from NoExit; and a solid performance of good old familiar Oedipus Rex, more or less doomed by catcalls from the gallery/superfans.
But here's the thing: The setting - coupled with knowledge of NoExit's ambition and energy - made an iffy performance into something worthwhile, despite its flaws. Still I hope there's more meat on the bones of Oedipus at Colonus (running May 10-12) and Antigone (May 18-20). All three plays will be again staged, in sequence, over a single weekend, May 31-June 2, leaving a final chance to catch Oedipus Rex May 31.