by Lorie Lewis Ham
I have to admit that up until this weekend I had never seen a Sam Shepard play, but I had heard a lot of great things about them. So when I saw that Fresno State was performing the Sam Shepard play A Particle of Dread, I was eager to see it.
A Particle of Dread takes one of the most famous plays in history-Oedipus Rex-and gives it a modern American twist. In this play, Oedipus (Steven Weatherbee), King of Thebes, prophesized to kill his father and marry his mother, alternates between his classical identity and that of the contemporary Otto. His wife (and true mother), Jocasta (Ruby Arreguin), is also called Jocelyn, and his antagonist (and true father) is split into three characters, Laius, Larry, and Langos (Anthony teNyenhuis). A present day policeman and a forensic investigator try to solve the murder. The play grapples with the question of destiny–can we shape and escape our destiny or do the narratives we pass down shape our lives? Could Oedipus have changed his destiny? His father certainly tried.
This was an intriguing and complicated play–pay very close attention or you may miss something, and they do jump around a lot in time. Being a mystery fan, I greatly enjoyed the mystery side of the story, and having only a passing knowledge of Oedipus Rex, I was surprised by the dramatic ending.
The set was simple–a white stage against a white and red costumed cast provided a very dramatic effect. Steven Weatherbee provided a passionate and nuanced portrayal of Oedipus/Otto and the torment that followed his life. Aaron Gomes was perfectly cast as Officer Harrington–I felt like he had walked straight out of a mystery TV show. Ian Jones as Forensic Investigator RJ Randolph also did a great job, and as a mystery fan, I hung on every clue he uncovered (I recently saw Ian in The Hunchback of Notre Dame presented by CMT and he was amazing!). Gian Console as Uncle Del/Traveler/Tiresias was perfectly over the top insane when called for, and Anthony teNyenhuis made a good mafia don version of a king as Laius/Lawrence/Langos. Everyone in the show did a wonderful job and I hope to see more of these talented actors in the future. As always, major kudos goes to director J. Daniel Herring–you can always count on a show directed by him to be excellent!
A Particle of Dread is performed in the Dennis & Cheryl Woods Theatre at Fresno State and tickets can be purchased on their website. If like me you have never been on the Fresno State campus, I recommend downloading one of the campus maps and getting there a little early in case you have trouble finding it.
There aren’t many chances to see this show, so get your tickets now! It will be on stage until October 7. Keep in mind that this is a very twisted plot (talk about a dysfunctional family) so definitely not for children.
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