The Gospel at Colonus
Men and women of all ages stand side-by-side up and down the aisles of the University Theatre dressed in brightly colored clothing of African design. As the lights dim and the music rises to an infectious beat, these same people become members of a church choir. Their voices rise together in praise as they, along with a cast of some of Sacramento’s most talented actors and singers, retell the tale of Oedipus’ redemption.
The Oedipus story, written by Sophocles as a cycle of three plays, is among the finest examples of classical Greek drama ever penned.
The story tells the tale of how Oedipus unknowingly kills his father, the King of Thebes, and marries his mother while assuming his father’s throne. When he realizes what he has done, he blinds himself by gouging his eyes and is banished from his beloved homeland.
The Gospel at Colonus, directed by Ivan Sandoval (Hamlet, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), is based on Sophocles’ final installment of the Oedipus story, “Oedipus at Colonus.” The last part of the tale recounts the end of Oedipus’ 30-year exile. The weary outcast arrives in Colonus, home to one of Greece’s most sacred shrines, and finds peace and acceptance just before his death.
Written by theater maverick Lee Breuer, The Gospel at Colonus is presented in the style of a Pentecostal gospel service. Breuer set out to recreate both Greek drama and Christian church sermons and to use the power of gospel music to carry the audience through Oedipus’ redemption, while holding true to the message and emotion of the original Greek drama.
The Gospel at Colonus is California Musical Theatre’s seventh Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Project presentation. The project was launched in 1995 to cultivate and promote new or rare works of musical theater written or performed by African-American artists. Earlier productions have included Do Wop Love, Cabin in the Sky and Raisin.
Starring a plethora of local talent such as James Wheatley, fresh from an extended run of Master Harold and the Boys with Celebration Arts; Lavinia Cooper, best known recently for This Child’s Family and My Castle’s Rockin’ with the Lambda Players; Joel Diefenbacher from the Best of Broadway series, and a list of talent that goes on for pages.
This year’s presentation is a tour de force. With soul-stirring revival music and an incredible cast, this production is a powerful and moving feast for the soul as well as the senses.
The show has a number of memorable moments, from testifier Polyneices’ (Vincent Harrison) pleas with Oedipus to forgive him, to Bill Miller’s overwhelmingly powerful vocal range during numbers like “Through My Tears” and “Lift Me Up.”
The Gospel at Colonus challenges its audience to believe that love lasts beyond death and to have hope in a world filled with difficult choices.