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An abandoned child. A murdered king. A deadly secret.
Northeast State Community College’s theater department brings these classic elements of “Oedipus Rex” to life in a fierce and visually arresting new production.
The show combines Sophocles’ tragic tale — a standard in most English and theater classes — with postmodern staging to create an elaborate drama unlike anything ever staged by Northeast State Theater.
“This is the most ambitious technical production we have ever attempted,” said Brad McKenzie, the play’s director. “With the masks, lighting and entire production, we are raising the bar of expectation for what an audience can expect to see in community college theater.”
Performances will be staged at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 13-15 and at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Oct. 16 in the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts on the college’s main campus, adjacent to Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville.
The play opens with King Oedipus facing a terrible curse that has befallen the city of Thebes. He sends his brotherin-law, Creon, to seek the advice of Apollo and restore order.
Creon informs Oedipus that the curse will be lifted if the murderer of Laius, the former king of Thebes, is punished.
Oedipus dedicates himself to the discovery and prosecution of Laius’ murderer. He questions unwilling citizens, including the blind prophet Teiresias, who gives the new king a dire warning.
While his wife, Jocasta, begs him to ignore the prophecy, Oedipus obsessively seeks to learn why he was abandoned as an infant and adopted by another family. His search leads him to a series of horrifying revelations about Laius’ death, his wife, Jocasta, their children and his own fate.
McKenzie and students Adam Honeycutt, Richard Curtis and Derek Smithpeters began formulating the play’s technical aspects earlier this year.
“It is fantastic to have student designers spend this much time with a production,” said Elizabeth M. Sloan, instructor and director of the Northeast State Theater program. “It is a lot of hard work, and as an actor, I’m excited to see the production come together with the cast and these creations.”
In keeping with the tradition of Greek theater, each character in Northeast State’s production of “Oedipus Rex” wears a mask. But McKenzie and crew have added a 21st-century twist through the use of lighting and sound that amplify the dramatic tension and give the audience a surround-sound feel of the characters’ emotional state.
Curtis searched online and found a formula to create the masks using a combination of joint compound, boiled linseed oil, tissue paper, flour and glue. The result yields sturdy, flexible masks that hold paint and absorb light.
“I looked at the classic designs and developed a look we wanted,” said Curtis, mask designer and assistant scene designer. “I took Brad’s concept and put a modern spin on the masks.”
Honeycutt, who worked behind the scenes as stage manager on Northeast State’s productions of “Dracula” and “The Wizard of Oz,” has created the sound cues in “Oedipus” to work in concert with the dialogue and lighting design.
The task of creating the play’s more morbid effects — deadly gashes and damaged bodies — fell to stage makeup master Smithpeters. As it turns out, common household products work wonders creating the bloody effects of murder and mutilation.
“We use liquid latex, coffee grounds and oatmeal,” Smithpeters said. “You work with the textures and add some color.”
Sloan said “Oedipus Rex” showcases Curtis, Honeycutt and Smithpeters’ talents on a grand scale.
“We have one of the best technical departments of any college theater program in this region,” Sloan said. “I am delighted and amazed at the imagination and quality the students are putting into this production.”
A Northeast Status alumnus, McKenzie earned a master of fine arts in theater design from the University of Southern Mississippi before bringing his talents back to Blountville.
His work earned him a design award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and he has high hopes that Northeast State’s production of “Oedipus Rex” will be nominated for next year’s Kennedy Center Awards.
Tickets are $8 for adults; $6 for non-Northeast State students, seniors, military veterans and emergency personnel; and free to current Northeast State students, who must pick up their tickets at the box office.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.NortheastState.edu or at the theater’s box office one hour prior to the show.
For more information, call (423) 354-2479 or (423) 323-0218.