IT'S PRETTY FUNNY that the Miracle Theatre's run of Oedipus el Rey overlapped with Mother's Day—I can't imagine a more awkward Sunday afternoon with mom than sitting in a dark room watching Jocasta unknowingly bang her own son. The Miracle's production sets the classic Greek tale in gangland LA, but any chance that a new context might lend this familiar tale new relevance is ruled out by the limited ambition of playwright Luis Alfaro, who's content to keep his updates squarely in the realm of the superficial.
Oedipus (Nick Ortega) is a recently released prisoner, raised by his adoptive father on a diet of religious texts and rigorous upper-body work. Despite the change in setting, Oedipus' fate unfolds like it always does: As per pre-natal prophecy, he kills his dad, marries his mom, and blinds himself when he realizes what he's done. (Although here the eye plucking is provided by Jocasta [Olga Sanchez]. Happy Mother's Day!)
The production's fantastical elements—including a three-headed owl and a manipulative sphinx—are handled with style, and a wifebeater-clad chorus ably provides a stable of secondary characters. But fundamentally, the script's treatment of "fate" is completely disconnected from the material circumstances of Oedipus' life. Here, Oedipus is cursed not because he was born poor and Latino; he's doomed by his arrogance, his scorn for religious tradition. (He aspires, we're told, to "be a god," and in one of the play's more ludicrous scenes, rips up a Bible and force-feeds its pages to priests.) Race and class have as much influence on the course of one's life as any grumpy old Greek god—to introduce these elements merely as window dressings, rather than the driving forces of fate, seems both irresponsible and uninspired.