Full disclosure – it pains me to write this review. I have been a diehard Sam Shepard fan for years, but I didn’t understand much of A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations). I hoped that reading ‘Oedipus Rex’ SparkNotes before seeing this play would give me a basic understanding. Little did I know that it would have been more helpful if there were SparkNotes to Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations). This is a messy play with messy direction that jumps back and forth between Greece (with Oedipus and Jocasta) to somewhere in the southwest United States (with Otto and Jocelyn). There are entrails, blood splatters and wacky cops.
The play tells parallel stories. In one, Oedipus is told by a seer that he will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. This horrifies him and he tries to flee his destiny. In the other, Otto dreams that he’s murdered someone and becomes fascinated with a crime committed on a desert highway that he read about in the newspaper. He feels it somehow relates to his dreams. This could have been an intriguing play, but this was all I understood.
Was Mr. Shepard trying to connect the violence in Greek tragedy to the current spate of violence in America? Was he trying to say that we never learn so history keeps repeating itself? Or was he was he just trying to spin an interesting yarn based on an old tale? Whatever he was trying to do, it was lost on me. There is a lot of blood, some very good dialogue and some funny lines – but that is not enough to make good theater. LAR
Signature Theater, 480 W 42nd Street
Ticket prices: $25 through December 21; starting at $50-$85 beginning December 23
Running thu: January 4, 2015
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission