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'Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)' review: Father-son drama via Sam Shepard

Stephen Rea & Lloyd Hutchinson in Sam Shepard’s

Stephen Rea & Lloyd Hutchinson in Sam Shepard’s ”A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)” Directed by Nancy Meckler, presented by Signature Theatre and Field Day Theatre Company. Credit: Matthew Murphy

After all the father/son calamities in Sam Shepard plays, it suddenly seems inevitable that the playwright would turn his menacing entertainments to the ultimate father/son trouble, "Oedipus."

Of course, since "A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)" has filtered the Greek myth through the unsettling, maverick mind of Shepard's open-road Southwest, Thebes and the Oracle at Delphi are not in the neighborhood.

The 90-minute drama, another transfer from actor Stephen Rea's Field Day company in Northern Ireland, is one of the more sober and obscure collages among Shepard's 50-odd, deeply scary, weirdly primal, often amusing works.

In many ways, this feels like a return to the playwright's experimental off Off-Broadway beginnings, before the 1979 Pulitzer for "Buried Child" and the movie stars clamoring to play the brothers in "True West." Rea, longtime Shepard specialist and Oscar nominee for "The Crying Game," swerves creepily between the young Oedipus, also called Otto, and his older blind self.

Director Nancy Meckler's production happens within a cube lined in institutional white tiles. Blood is on the floor and red rags, meant to be guts, hang on a clothesline. Oedipus' father is not a king, but a nattily dressed casino kingpin (Aidan Redmond). He tries in vain to keep from making a baby with Jocasta/Jocelyn (Brid Brennan) after a butcher/seer (Lloyd Hutchinson) throws the dice that prophesize that their son would murder his father and marry his mother.

The murder happens on a highway in the Mojave Desert. The cops are morons. Ancient myth mingles with Irish accents and desert-rat Americana in a play that is both compelling and pretty ponderous. Still, nobody but Shepard could have written it.

 

WHAT "A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)"

WHERE Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

INFO $25, $75 after Dec. 21; 212-244-7529; signaturetheatre.org

BOTTOM LINE Shepard -- mythic, mysterious and obscure.

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