Luis Alfaro's Intimate, Contemporary Take On 'Oedipus' At The Public Theater
In Oedipus El Rey, Luis Alfaro's contemporary take on Sophocles's tragedy of patricide and incest currently playing at the Public Theater, the titular character is a recently released convict who finds himself in a "kingdom" of drugs, violence, and Chicano gangs in L.A. And Jocasta? Abused by her husband, she is a lonely woman of deep faith who finds love with Oedipus, a man who challenges her beliefs.
This isn't the first time Mexican-American Alfaro -- a playwright, director, teacher, social activist, and MacArthur "Genius Grant" winner -- has reimagined an ancient Greek drama through his cultural lens. In 2004 he wrote Electricidad: A Chicano Take on the Tragedy of Electra, and this past spring Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles opened at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where he is the Mellon Playwright in Residence.
The California-born son of farmworkers, Alfaro is one of many artists of color using classics as a springboard for their own storytelling. Earlier this year, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins transformed the medieval morality play Everyman into Everybody at Signature Theatre Company, and Homer's The Odyssey was the inspiration for Suzan-Lori Parks's Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) . "I think it's in the water," says Alfaro, who adds that working with iconic texts allows modern-day playwrights to fuse the personal with the universal. "We are channeling these works and translating them to our times. They're helping me wrestle with larger cultural and big-scale issues: life, death, love in 90 minutes -- you get it all."
Chay Yew, who directs Oedipus El Rey, says updating these narratives helps keep them relatable. "Oftentimes when we see a classic play, a lot of people of color don't see themselves in these works," he says.