Oedipus wrecked

Oedipus wrecked

We, in St Xavier’s College, were considering the various options for the one-act play competition. We zeroed in on  the presentation of a crucial scene from Oedipus Rex, the dramatic masterpiece of  Sophocles — the tragic story of Oedipus who unknowingly killed his father and married  his mother.

What fuelled our enthusiasm were grandiose visions of recreating Brecht on Broadway before the suave Calcutta audience. The motley cast plunged straight into a tight schedule of rehearsals. These were rather noisy affairs, most of the dramatics being provided by the self-appointed director who alternated between harangues and tearing at his hair.

I was to act as Teiresias, the blind soothsayer of renowned wisdom. Oedipus was played by a guy going prematurely bald.  In fact, in a paradoxical reversal of roles, he looked more like a  father than a son to his mother,  Jocasta, played by a fair damsel fresh into the college.

At last, the big day arrived.  All the actors were herded into the green rooms below the stage where they milled about like so many sheep. We stood around in outlandish costumes, presumably classical Greek, while a couple of girls powdered our noses and attacked our faces with palette of colours.

The first two performances were over and we were now in the thick of it. Oedipus was stomping about the stage, pontificating about life and death in a ridiculous skirt-like garb. The director was standing beside him in a black gown, ostensibly working as the Greek chorus, but in actuality slyly doubling as prompter.

Came my moment to enter. Being an old, blind prophet, I hobbled on stage and immediately commenced a tirade of fire, death and destruction   about to befall Oedipus. The absence of my minus-five glasses had reduced the audience to a blur and my speech did not falter. An impressive performance, I thought, as I sauntered  out.

There was pin-drop silence.  Then it happened. It started with a rumble, primeval and wild, signalling that aesthetic appreciation of serious theatre had come to an end. As Jocasta made her entry, the young crowd started roaring with catcalls and whistles rending the air.

The cause of the sudden volte face was self-evident. Instead of the tragic mother of Oedipus, one saw a resplendent beauty, a combination of Cleopatra and Brooke Shields, apparently dressed up for a fancy-dress ball rather than the serious matters at hand. Oedipus had been truly wrecked.