Theater review: 'Oedipus the King, Mama!' at the Falcon Theatre*
They’re at it again. The Troubadour Theater Company, known for mingling the plots of classics with rock 'n' roll, is back for its 14th season of music, mischief and inspired clowning with “Oedipus the King, Mama!” at the Falcon Theatre. This fusion of “Oedipus Rex” and the music of Elvis Presley reaffirms why the Troubies, as they are affectionately known, have become such a durably hot ticket.
However, even indigenous treasures can have an off night, and at their recent opening, the Troubies were not in tiptop form. Much of the show is improvised, so a few misfires are inevitable. But even when the Troubies are not firing on all their considerable comic cylinders, they are still full-bore hoots guaranteed to have you roaring for a goodly portion of the evening.
The problem may lie in part with the source material: Greek tragedy is a bit of a departure for the
company, which has borrowed largely from Shakespeare in the past. While Shakespeare has wall-to-wall action, “Oedipus” has a lot of dour and chorally reiterative exposition as Oedipus tries to solve the mystery of his past.
At first, that’s a drag on the momentum that Matt Walker, the troupe’s founder, director and clown emeritus, fails to adequately redress. Perhaps a few more full-blown musical numbers earlier in the show might help. Over the years, Walker has assembled a core team of singer-dancer-actors who, given the opportunity, can really sizzle. And the fact that Walker gives solos to just about everyone in his talented ensemble may be admirably egalitarian, yet it seems a shame that certain performers, such as gifted Lisa Valenzuela, are underutilized.
Of course, when Oedipus-Elvis learns that he has murdered his daddy and married his mama, the show takes off like a skyrocket and inspired vulgarity is the order of the evening. (Be forewarned: This is not a kiddie show. One particular sequence involving a blow-up sex doll is particularly gross – and absolutely side-splitting.)
When finally given their chance to shine, choreographer Ameenah Kaplan and music director Eric Heinly prove integral to the fun. Playing Oedipus, replete in a glitzy white-spangled Elvis jumpsuit, Walker staggers around like a drunken man with one leg in a ditch (Remember? Baby Oedipus had his ankles pierced when his daddy threw him out to die.) James Snyder is an appropriately hunky young Elvis with a voice to match his looks. As Creon (note the pronunciation here), deadpan Rick Batalla sports a wild green ensemble, courtesy of costume designer Sharon McGunigle, that makes him look exactly like a bright green crayon. And, as Jocasta, Beth Kennedy displays a talent as big as her hair. She is, as ever, divinely droll.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Oedipus the King, Mama!” Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 27. $32.50-$40. (818) 955-8101. Running time: 90 minutes.
*Updated: an earlier version of this review had the incorrect running time.
Photo: From left, Matt Walker, Beth Kennedy and Rick Batalla in the Troubadour Theater Company’s "Oedipus the King, Mama!" Credit: Chelsea Sutton