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Theater Review:

"OFFENDING SHADOWS," TriArts at The Viaduct


Audiences expecting to see a reenactment of the "Oedipus" and "Antigone" tragedies in Barbara Carlisle’s "Offending Shadows" will be disappointed – or at least jolted out of a naturalistic state. And that’s precisely what the playwright intended. This meta-theatrical meditation has no interest in rehashing these classic Greek myths of incestuous punishment and honor for the dead. Instead it dissects the stage conventions that shape these eternal stories into eternal truths, going so far as to suggest that the very structure of theater has its own limitations and manipulative overtones.

Carlisle also directs TriArts' ambitious but uneven production at The Viaduct, which set designers Troy Fujimura and Simon Lashford have effectively reconfigured into an amalgam of self-consciously theatrical visuals – columns, elevated compartments with drapes and an over-sized gilt frame (each one intersecting the other). But this highly deliberate examination of the dramatic form also has its inherent shortcomings.

As Allen Sermonia’s one-man magician-like Chorus explains foreshadowing and dramatic irony, and as scenes from "Oedipus" and "Antigone" are presented out of order to illustrate these devices, the whole play takes on a disturbingly didactic feel. Besides the Greeks, Carlisle tosses in copious excerpts from Shakespeare, along with references to Arthur Miller and Bertolt Brecht.

A certain degree of infatuation with stagecraft snakes through the playwright’s criticism of the stage’s inability to elicit pure truth. So "Offending Shadows" falls into its own dramatic limbo – satire bumps up against stylized abstraction and collides with critical and cryptic self-examination. Ultimately, the play tells more than it shows – and what it tells grows futile.

Interestingly, the action in the "wings" – a sentimental Old Man puppet dosing in the arms of a wizened Old Woman (a forceful Allison Latta) and the silent urgency of the "off-stage" actors – achieves a greater emotional impact than the centerstage performers (especially during the misguided scene involving Amy Wilhoite and Patricia Austin’s sibling dispute in "Antigone").

Overall, we are left with fragments. Christopher Jacobs achieves the proper balance of boredom and boldness as the generic, hapless Messenger; Vicky Riego de Dios wraps Jocasta in glamour and soft regret; Jeremy Sklar’s broadly self-absorbed Oedipus mirrors the self-conscious nature of this play well; and John W. Rogers III endows Creon with an air of bored superiority.

It is no doubt the writer’s purpose to illustrate most people’s desire for the willful bliss of ignorance over the pained transcendence of truth. And theater, in an ironic way, is capable of fostering those bloated illusions. But there’s no deux ex machina in Carlisle’s reexamination of the theater arts. At the same time, no burning revelations emerge from all the long-winded ramblings.

This is Greek tragedy – or, more accurately, the surgical analysis of Greek tragedy – by way of Luigi Pirandello and vaudeville. But the motivations of these glowering specters of Thespis remain elusive under Carlisle’s out-of-focus microscope.•

"Offending Shadows" runs through June 17 at The Viaduct, 3111 N. Western. Tickets: $15. Call 773-866-8082.

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