ARLINGTON, VA – The Gospel at Colonus is onstage at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington through March 25th and is the African-American inspired version of Sophocles’ tragedy, “Oedipus at Colonus.”
An Avant Bard production, the musical, a mixture of gospel revival, Greek tragedy, and soulful Motown revue, was a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the 1984 Obie Award for Best Musical. In today’s political climate, with its anti-refugee policies, this 30-year-old's production is timely and relevant.
Directed and choreographed by Sandra L. Holloway, based on original direction by Jennifer Nelson, the show dramatically conjures up the pathos of Oedipus, the tragic king in Greek mythology who ruled over the city of Thebes.
The son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta, Oedipus unknowingly fulfills a prophecy by killing his father, marrying his mother and having four children with her. The result is disastrous for his city and family.
In the play, we come upon him as a blind and fallen man, a tormented soul cast from his kingdom. Seeking mercy and a place to call home as he seeks a sanctuary where he can find peace and redemption before his death.
Like so many refugees today, however, he is not welcomed with open arms, particularly after the citizens of Colonus, a sacred grove guarded by the Furies, learn of Oedipus’ past.
“The Gospel of Colonus” features stirring and upbeat gospel music and a talented cast. The production’s strength is its epic poetry and magnificent score that reminds us that one can transcend the most profound sorrow if one holds on to hope.
Standouts in the show include William T. Newman Jr. as a fiery Preacher Oedipus and recording artist Kenton Rogers as Singer Oedipus. A.J. Calbert persuasively plays Theseus, the leader of the community in Colonus, who himself had once been a refugee and who ultimately will decide the exiled king’s fate.
Other cast members include Greg Watkins as Polyneices; Rafealito Ross as Balladeer, Ayana Reed as Antigone, Jessa Marie Coleman as Ismene and Gregory K. Wright as Choragos.
A women’s choir/Greek chorus (Minister Becky Sanders and The Women’s Ecumenical Choir of Alexandria) gave soul to the production while keyboardist e’Marcus Harper-Short does double duty as a wicked Creon and Jabari Exum’s djembe drumming brilliantly roused the house.
If there is one flaw in the show, it was the stage design that can obstruct one’s view, depending on where one is seated in the theater.