An Oedipul Block

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John Manfredi, who plays Oedipus in our current production, had this to say when I asked folks for some thoughts on challenges they faced doing this production.

As the blinded King Oedipus, Laurence Olivier uttered a terrible, desolate scream of pain which is a thing of legend and often chronicled. He is quoted as saying that to ‘find’ that scream he thought of how they catch ermine.

“In the Arctic they put down salt and the ermine comes to lick it. It’s caught when it’s tongue freezes to the ice. I thought about that sudden pain when I screamed as Oedipus.”

I think about my back after getting out of my car and the 70 minute drive to Williamston.

I wake up every morning between 4 and 5am hoping that it won’t hurt. At this point that’s like hoping my bulldog Bella won’t snore like Fred Flintstone, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. If bi-weekly epidural blocks and three hours of icing a day haven’t fixed the problem, it’s probably a good bet that the back fairy isn’t going to visit me in the night. Simply put, my body is way older than the mileage would indicate-I wish there was “cash for clunkers” or “lemon laws” for the human body.

Unless you’ve had chronic back pain or the unfortunate circumstance to live with someone that does (like my incredible wife Kate) it’s hard to describe. Imagine never being able to be in a comfortable position or that sleeping hurts. Imagine the fear of sneezing being only outweighed by seeing a flight of stairs. It’s kind of like that.

There are only two instances in my life when I forget about the pain in my back and although both actually increase the discomfort when they are over, those are some good times while they’re happening. Both allow my brain to compartmentalize the ache to a non-immediate state temporarily. One, I cannot talk about in a family friendly forum and the other one is a child’s pastime- I play pretend a few times a week at Williamston Theatre in a new production of “Oedipus”.

Sir Laurence Olivier called playing Oedipus the ‘Lear’ of Greek drama and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a great and challenging role but to paraphrase another great Sir- Ian McKellen -‘I’m not really King Oedipus I am pretending to be King Oedipus.’ Now, I know a lot of my fellow artists will take umbrage with my simplification of our ‘craft’ but I’m an old school guy and what I do may be a lofty pursuit to some, to me it’s my job-it’s how I earn a living and it has it’s difficulties sure but it’s not brain surgery, sorry folks.

As fortunate as I am to be a part of this innovative moving piece of theatre, it flat kicks my butt, it’s all I can do to fold myself back into my car and make the drive home to my ice packs every night. I have done more physically demanding roles for sure and even a few that have called for a similar level of emotional ‘pretending’ but that was before I rolled the odometer over on this body. If you come and see us and I strongly suggest you do, you’ll see that we hit the deck running and don’t stop for the next 80ish minutes. It’s done in the round, it’s emotionally charged, there’s no intermission and the stakes are high from first word to final curtain.

All that being said, when I am on stage, I am pain free. The level of concentration necessary and the intensity of the work short circuit or distract the pain receptors, I guess. And when you are fortunate enough to be working with other actors that have that same level of commitment and honesty you can be transported into the life of the play. Oedipus is physically pain free (until the end of course) and although he is an emotionally tortured character, John the actor is joyous. The incredible folks I am on stage with every day are my ‘back fairy’ and I love them for it. All in all, it’s quite a ride and whether you think you like Greek drama or not, I can promise you won’t be bored for a single second.

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