While preparing to perform “Oedipus the King” half a world away in Thessaloniki, Greece, Rick Davis saw a very familiar Augusta face.
“On the kiosk beside our poster for ‘Oedipus’ was a poster for James Brown,” he said. The Godfather of Soul was performing in town the week of their performance, and several of Davis’ Augusta State University students studying abroad finagled backstage passes to meet him. When the show began, the hardest working man in show business began by announcing their upcoming performance to the audience.
“Some of the folks from the concert showed up,” Davis said. “He was really gracious to them.”
As Brown brought Augusta soul to Greece, now Davis — or, rather, Sophocles — will bring Greek tragedy to Augusta.
“Oedipus the King” will open on Thursday, Oct. 19, at ASU’s Maxwell Theatre. “It’s a really good translation: modern, edgy,” Davis said. “It’s got a real cutting edge feel to it.”
With symbolic costuming, dramatic staging by Shelly Ford and innovative use of the traditional Greek chorus, nothing
about this production plays the way you’ll remember it from high school or college English class.
“Nobody’s walking around in togas and bogus Greek sandals,” he said, chuckling at the memory of poor costuming he’s seen in other productions, including Tevas. The chorus members — some of whom had never danced before the Thessaloniki performance — learned a lot of very elaborate dancing for their parts.
“Rather than having the chorus as background, they kind of weave in and out of the story,” he said.
The chorus members and actors deliver their choreography, lines and staging to wrangle some truth from the difficult
language and themes. The entire show, from rehearsal to performance, was finished in three weeks. Jayson Akridge, who
plays Oedipus, had an almost impossible task, according to Davis. Despite the limitations of the production, he had to
give the audience an Oedipus that crackled with power. He did.
The entire production will. The theatre takes a piece that can be stilted and archaic, and accents the things that make it timeless: language, relationships and the larger questions of life. The show re-examines the central themes of every 10th graders’ term paper on the play — hubris and fate — because fate with no escape is merely a clever mathematical puzzle, Davis said. In fact, the reason the play remains popular is because the lines between fate and free will are uncertain and it wrestles with the fundamental questions about why life exists.
“To what extent is Oedipus responsible for his own fate and to what extent is he manipulated by outside forces? The answer is unknowable. It approaches the edges of cosmic mystery,” he said.
Akridge travels from graduate school in Virginia to rehearse and perform, but he and Julie Jones reprise their roles from
the Thessaloniki performance as Oedipus and Jocasta in this show, despite the fact that they have both moved on from the university. It may be Augusta’s last chance to see them perform together.
“Oedipus the King” will play Oct. 19 – 21, at 8 p.m. and Oct. 22, at 3 p.m. at the Maxwell Theatre on the Augusta State University campus. Tickets are $10, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. ASU students, faculty and staff free with valid ASU ID. Call 706-667-4100 or visit aug.edu.