Behind the masks…Oedipus Rex opens Thursday night

Staging Oedipus Rex represents the Northeast State Theater Department’s biggest technical production ever.

But bringing Sophocles’ tragic spectacle to life falls to the cast of actors taking on the roles of King Oedipus, Queen Jocasta, the supplicants of Thebes and the chorus.  Kyle Walter won the titular role of the troubled king during auditions in September.

“This is the first title role I’ve ever played,” says Walter, a Knoxville native. “I love the challenge of bringing something on paper to life on stage.”

A theater major at East Tennessee State University, Walter has appeared in previous Northeast State productions Bus Stop and The Wizard of Oz.  Greek theater isn’t all Greek to Walter – he appeared in ETSU’s production of Lysistrata last year.

The cast also takes on the challenge of performing with designer Richard Curtis’s character masks.  Surprisingly light but intricate in detail, the masks provide a stunning first impression of the characters.  Walter notes that the actors define their characters through physical movements and vocal nuance.

“Oedipus is the king so his physical movements represent distinct things,” he said. “The masks define the characters somewhat but an actor must represent who the character is through his or her creativity on stage.”

Playing Oedipus’s wife Jocasta is Sarah Murray, a speech pathology major at Northeast State, making her first appearance on stage for Northeast State Theater.

“I am super excited to be a part of this show,” says Murray, of Bristol. “It gives you a true appreciation of Greek drama.”

The chorus provides episodic structure in much of Greek drama.  The chorus from Oedipus reflects the cursed plague that has ensnared Thebes, the prediction of Teiresias, and ultimate fate of the king.

While most actors wear masks unique to their character, the production’s six chorus members stalk the stage in similar masks and blood red tunics made more ominous through the lighting effects used as a dramatic device throughout the play. Chorus member Hannah Rockwell said she and her counterparts followed stage direction but were given the creative freedom to improvise on stage.

“We are told how to move and where to go, but from there we can do what we want with our movements on stage,” said Rockwell, a psychology major at Northeast State.

Opening night for Oedipus Rex is Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts (WRCPA) on the main campus.  Performances continue Oct. 14 – 16 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Oct. 16.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for non-Northeast State students, seniors, military veterans, and emergency personnel.  Performances are free to current Northeast State students, but they must pick up tickets at the box office. Tickets can be purchased at www.NortheastState.edu or at the ’s box office one hour prior to the show.

For information, call 423.354.2479 or 423.323.0218.

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