Theater archives

A Lesbian Reworking of Sophocles Turns a Classic Into a Complex


In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the protagonist, an
expert problem solver, tries to uncover the source of his city’s plague and ends up confronting the horror of his own identity. The strange and indelible parable, haunted by the Freudian goblins of incest and parricide, measures the gap between humanity’s proud estimation of itself and the state of blind, existential wandering that is our inescapable lot. In the Five Lesbian Brothers’ Oedipus at Palm Springs, the anxiety that arises isn’t so much metaphysical as physical: Sex, in all its wacky mystery, leads the women on a journey of discovery that brings them back—recoilingly—to their mothers. And who says the Oedipus complex is just for little boys?

Two couples, on vacation together in a nudist-friendly California lesbian resort (presided over by a blind, New Age–style hotel manager with a horrendous hairdo), are having vastly different bedroom experiences. Con (Lisa Kron) and Fran (Maureen Angelos) have lost the spark ever since Fran got pregnant and began to think of her breasts as a source of food rather than eroticism. Prin (Dominique Dibbell) and Terri (Peg Healey) can’t get enough of each other and are on the verge of tying the knot, despite the fact that Prin’s an inveterate womanizer and Terri’s mourning the loss of her adopted mother while longing to discover the identity of her birth mother. Without giving away the big secret, let’s just say that the ironic twist is as startling as the one in the original, though far less well plotted and infinitely more melodramatic.

For all the play’s insights into the maternal mysteries of sexual identity, the writing is an unsatisfying mix of Greek tragedy send-up, Neil Simon domestic shtick, and occasionally embarrassing soap opera dramatics. As winning as the Brothers are together onstage (with or without their clothes on), Oedipus at Palm Springs takes a surprisingly banal approach to a classic that’s deeper than any Freudian (or neo-Freudian) complex.