Tragically hip

Pub date February 9, 2010
WriterRobert Avila

THEATER The Oedipus of Sophocles gets transposed to the California prison system and East L.A. in Luis Alfaro’s lively Oedipus el Rey, playing at the Magic Theatre in a world premiere slickly staged by artistic director Loretta Greco. Neither the classic nor contemporary terrain is new turf for Alfaro, whose Electricidad similarly reset the Electra myth. But San Francisco is another story, this being the acclaimed L.A.-based Latino playwright’s first professional Bay Area production.

Slipping into Alfaro’s lyrical mix of the sacred and vernacular, his intuitive sense of comic timing, and his larger dramatic purposes proves relatively easy. Despite many appeals to artistic license — including a sometimes cumbersome substitution of a Christian universe for fate-bound Greek pantheism and the more intriguing revisioning of Oedipus as a barrio gangster on the make — the story remains familiar in outline, not least the beloved plot points “kills father, marries mother.” And decades into the work of playwrights like Luis Valdez, José Rivera, and Octavio Solis, there’s something already familiar as well about the setting’s wry, poetical, classically bound barrio.

But Alfaro is a knowing and competent progenitor of the style. The use of a four-cholo chorus, or Coro, is particularly deft, with the actors in orange prison smocks occupying the extreme corners of a mystically bare stage and calling on us to consider “this man” — played with a jagged, bounding innocence by Joshua Torrez — in a tough, sardonic but elegant litany that pounds open the themes of the play from the outset like a piñata idol.

But the less abstract scenes are among the most effective, especially the riveting relationship between Oedipus and his lover and unrecognized mother Jocasta (a winningly strong yet vulnerable Romi Dias), which unfolds as an incestuous but tender and strangely compelling meeting of damaged souls. If the play doesn’t cohere with quite the authority or intensity it aims for, what remains is a set of images and moments that set the prophetic and profane in vital relation to one another.



Drag performance artist and dancer Monique Jenkinson, a.k.a. Fauxnique, recently saw the weekend run of her new solo show Luxury Items at ODC Theater sell out in the bat of an eyelash. (See SFBG photographer Ariel Soto’s shots of that perfomance here.) So the current remounting at CounterPULSE comes highly anticipated. It doesn’t disappoint, and given the charisma and talent of its writer-choreographer-performer, not to mention the love lavished on her by adoring audiences, it’s hard to imagine how an intimate evening like this could. And considering its general execution and not least its ambition and scope — at once surprising and altogether apt — it’s well worth seeing at any stage in its ongoing development. At the same time, in the uneven arc of its dramatic line and somewhat choppy melding of themes, it remains a work-in-progress.

But what a work! Beginning in glorious repose across a deluxe chaise longue, Luxury Items revels in haute couture fantasy. But it soon acknowledges essential truths about our obsession with opulence in general and haute couture in particular. One: it’s built around an ersatz encounter with luxury that comes courtesy of media and advertising (“obsession,” in other words, is first of all a perfume ad). And two: it’s tacitly premised on a political economy whose principal characteristic is the ruthless class-based exploitation of laboring bodies.

If this makes drag sound like a drag, all the more reason to laud what Jenkinson is crafting here. It retains all requisite insouciance and wit even while deconstructing, in compellingly personal and historical terms, the “real” material bargain being made in every rarified, Chanel-clouded embrace of precious materialism.


Through Feb. 28

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat., 2:30 p.m.);

Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues., 7 p.m., $20-$55

Magic Theatre

Bldg B, Fort Mason Center, SF

(415) 441-8822


Through Feb. 21

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m. (except Feb. 20, 10 p.m.), $20


1310 Mission, SF

(415) 626-2060