The Gospel at Colonus

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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Created in New York City in 1983 by Lee Breuer, The Gospel at Colonus is an African-American take on Sophocles's ancient tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus. What's more, this 20th-century redux is an emotional musical that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and later had a Broadway run for which it earned a Tony Award nomination. Moreover, and luckily for So Cal theatergoers, a production of The Gospel at Colonus is now being produced by Los Angeles's Ebony Repertory Company and performed through July 19 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

A fascinating hybrid of religious sermon steeped in the mythos of a classic Greek drama, The Gospel at Colonus – in the capable hands of Director Andi Chapman, with the words of Lee Breuer, the music of Bob Telson, and the inspiration of Sophocles’s original conceit – provides theatergoers with an experience that is as akin to spiritual rapture as one is likely to get while sitting in a theater.

With rousing musical direction by Abdul Hamid Royal of a quartet of blissful musicians, on a grand scenic design by Edward Hayes, Jr., with bright and beautiful costuming by Naila Aladdin Sanders, impressive lighting effects by Karyn D. Lawrence, and stunning sound engineering by Philip G. Allen, we are given, in two acts, over two dozen song interpretations, each infused with the soulful stirrings of Gospel rhythms and melodies that range from the beatific to the wicked.

What’s more, a full choir is employed, which underscores the church-like feeling of the production while it emphasizes the dramatic trajectory of Oedipus’s life, which plays like a religious parable and is delivered as a mix of sermon and enactment. Oedipus has spent rootless years roving with his daughter, Antigone.

Oedipus is penitent and longsuffering for the sins – the killing of his own father and the incestuous relationship with his mother – he once committed. At last he arrives at Colonus, the holy resting spot he has been promised upon his death. His second daughter, Ismene, discovers him at Colonus. She is there to tell Oedipus of the prophecy, which assures that he is now blessed and that those he blesses shall also be bestowed with blessings. But wait…there’s more. The King of Thebes, Creon, becomes involved, wanting to bring Oedipus back to Colonus in order to get the promised blessing, but Oedipus refuses to make the trip. Unexpectedly, Creon has Antigone and Ismene seized. Meanwhile, Oedipus’s estranged son, Polyneices, comes to gain blessing from his father before going to war. Instead, Oedipus curses him for his past betrayal and sends him away to face death

Interestingly, this Greek classic plays as if it were a story from the Old Testament, steeped in moral questions and filled with the intensity of a passion play. The Gospel at Colonus is more than mere pageantry, it is a blessing to modern-day theater and relevant to current social conditions. Ultimately it is a message to forgive while not forgetting the trespasses and sins of the past

With a huge and marvelous cast that includes Roger Robinson, Ellis Hall, Kim Stauton, William Allen Young, Dorian Holley, Samuel Butler, and LaVan Davis – plus a soul-singing Greek chorus, a church choir made of seeming multitudes, The Gospel at Colonus is superbly cast and nobly executed. It is a sterling sermon for the ages and a meaningful message for our time.

The Gospel at Colonus, a production of the Ebony Repertory Company, continues at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center through July 19. The Center is located at 4718 West Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles.

 

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m.; and Sundays at 3 p.m. For reservations call (323) 964-9766.