a particle of dread (oedipus variations )
The playhouse, derry
A sterile, clinical space, a room of slaughter, a room awaiting slaughter.
White-tiled walls confirm this sense of abattoir. A large plastic sheet with a circle of what must be blood. A washing line strung with entrails, possibly human. A cellist, Neil Martin, sits ready in an elevated corner to provide his haunting soundtrack to brutal devastation.
This is Frank Conway's compelling set for Sam Shepard's latest play, receiving its world premiere in Derry with a freshly revived Field Day Productions, complete with founding member actor Stephen Rea. And it is all about death.
Into this world, Rea emerges, almost unrecognisable, striped dungarees, bloodied, thick goggles, hair wild, body wild, as if possessed, an innocent child and yet an ancient sage. He is witness to the dark past and the even darker future.
In the present, an apparently random massacre has taken place in the Los Angeles desert. Who is the killer? Why did he kill? What will be the repercussions for future generations? In the past, a king is told by a prophet that his son will grow up to marry the queen and murder his father. The king thinks he can escape his destiny and responds by driving a stake through his baby's foot, pinning him to a mountain olive tree and leaving him to die.
In another time, a young mother is so devastated that her baby has witnessed its father raping and killing the babysitter that she, the mother, decides she cannot keep her baby. History repeats, vengeance never dies and apparently we will never learn anything.
Shepard has written this almost like a piece of music, with the theme of Oedipus like a musical coda, emerging in different forms but still recognisable. But the end result is one of fragmentation; moments of high drama, standout performances and provocative ideas being tangled with moments of overacting, dipping energy and unnecessarily tangled stories.
There are traces of Shakespeare's Macbeth, of gothic horror, The Omen. The ancient themes of sacrifice, of retribution, preserved.
But there is also a lack of cohesion, in Shepard's writing and also director Nancy Meckler's interpretation. Meckler needs to rein in some performances, to draw others out, to build something of real substance.
However, nothing can detract from the staggering power of Judith Roddy as the young, tormented mother and Lloyd Hutchinson's extraordinary and utterly mesmerising presence as butcher, hobo and seer.