The eyes have it

The Xperimental Theater produces a new take on a Greek classic.

Greg Corradini

Patricide and maternal coitus are the leading causes of blindness among dramatic men.

Sophocles’ ancient tale “Oedipus Rex” has been interpreted many ways. Jim Morrison wrote a song about it. Although Luke Skywalker didn’t go blind, he lost his hand and contributed to his father’s death, and he only got as far as his sister. Rarely, however, has the Oedipal urge come under strictly comical investigation. In Nick Ryan’s “Inspector Rex,” comedic certitude prods inevitable tragedy.

The Laios Manor, like all proper English estates, has servants to do the dirty work. Nevertheless, the butler Henry (Colin Markowitz) retires from his dusting duties for a stiff drink after Emily the gardener (Rachael Zuleger) discovers a body in the pool. The body turns out to be none other than their boss Mr. Laios’ fashionably carved-up corpse.

Inspector Rex stumbles into the proceedings drunk, the only hope for unraveling the heinous crime. Interrogations are started and then sidetracked by Rex’s blathering. Before long, Henry and Emily realize the inspector’s buffoonery makes Scooby Doo look like Sherlock Holmes. Furthermore, they learn he is not a real inspector at all but rather “plays” one at parties in an attempt to get some action.

Ryan’s script resembles a pastiche of the English murder mystery “Clue” and prompts the question, “Who killed Mr. Laios and with what?” Then the party really gets under way with acerbic wit, strong drinks and incestuous foreboding. Sophocles’ Tiresias is converted into Terry (Tom Ryman) the subpar magician, who threatens to ruin Rex’s malarkey with premonitions.

“Oh come now, Emily, the only thing that could jostle me from this alcoholic state of euphoria would be castration,” Rex said. “And that would only be while the actual cutting is taking place – I mean afterwards it would only be a few moments before I regrouped and had another drink.”

Nick Ryan, a University sophomore, began writing “Inspector Rex” two years ago in high school. He had been scheduled to direct his school’s fall production of “Oedipus Rex.” At the time, he was apprehensive about his ability to direct a serious tragedy. His affinity for comedy and a certain copy of “Oedipus Rex” both played a role in him realizing the possibilities of the play as a satire.

Ryan heard about the New Work Series last fall as a first-year and returned to his script revisions. The Xperimental Theater’s board picked his submission for the new season. “Inspector Rex” was workshopped twice in April before being picked up as an “X” production.

“It’s been fantastic. I’m a first time director and (the ‘X’) has been very accommodating,” Ryan said. “They’ll give me the help I need but they also give me a lot of freedom artistically. I’ve really enjoyed working with my cast and crew; it’s made my job as a director easy. It’s almost a little disconcerting because they make it a bit too easy.”

The New Works Series is a cooperative effort between Crisis Point and Xperimental Theater to open the stage to student playwrights. A committee of members selected from both groups reviews submissions each December and picks a handful of student plays to be workshopped in the spring. The board then sets up each writer with an adviser from the theater department, and they prepare for the readings. Actors perform the readings in front of an audience to get feedback for the playwright.

“Being able to hear it read by actors was probably the best part of it.” Ryan said. “Ultimately, getting the audience reaction let me know that I was on the right track with it. It’s constructive feedback that resulted in changes for the better. A lot of the changes were made not because (the actors) necessarily told me that things weren’t working just because in hearing it, in hearing the actors read, I had a sense that they didn’t really have a grasp of what was happening at that particular point – why a certain character was doing this, why a certain character said this, I took it to mean that maybe I was not being as clear as I could be.”

Because Xperimental Theatre is a student-run group, the shows they produce are all free to viewers. This also means the dedicated people in and behind the scenes aren’t doing theater for the big bucks, but because they love it.