Greek tragedies as a rule have a lot going on. There’s incest, and murder, and the requisite self-inflicted eye gouging, which is perhaps why the classics continue to provide artists with an ever-flowing fountain of inspiration. But this bounty of universal themes and motifs can drown a production that’s not buoyed to a sturdier focus. We Tiresias, now playing at Round House Silver Spring, mostly stays afloat, but not without a good bit of flailing from trying to take on too much.
Forum Theatre’s encore production of the Capital Fringe Festival’s 2012 Best Drama winner shifts the blind seer (who figures peripherally into stories such as Oedipus Rex) into the protagonist role—or, in this case, roles. Three actors portray Tiresias (thus the titular “We”), imagining the character as a young man (Chris Stinson), an old man (William Aitken), and a goddess-cursed woman (Melissa Hmelnicky). Relating their tale over barroom drinks, Tiresias’s personas recall his tumultuous life from an interesting but underdeveloped intersection of ancient and modern eras. Before the prophet broke the mother-loving bad news to Oedipus, we learn, he managed to fit in an affair with a priestess, a foray into con-artistry, and a showdown with the goddess Hera in which he was transformed into a woman, among other developments. Stephen Spotswood’s script poses ambitious questions: Is foretelling the future a blessing or a curse? Are we powerless to the whims of the gods? Answering them within the performance may not be the point, but the storytelling here feels stretched so thin within the show’s brief runtime, we’re not even given the chance to process that a profound question has been raised, much less examined.
The acting is solid. Despite some flubs, director Matt Ripa’s three-person cast strikes a satisfying balance, exuding wisdom and weariness. Feeling moved or particularly invested in these characters and their fast-changing relationships is trickier, but it’s not for lack of trying on their part; the drama’s structure tends to get in the way.
Round House’s cavernous black-box space gives its productions an intimate edge, here achieved through simplicity. The set consists of a few tables and bar stools and not much more. With a more emotionally compelling show, this starkness might keep audiences glued to the raw action. Instead it feels a little underwhelming in comparison to the mythical scope of the subject matter. Costume choices, too, are overpowered: Stinson in a suit, Aitken in casual workman’s attire, and Hmelnicky in a Tom Petty cutoff tee, so what could be more meaningful is muddled.
All of this is not to say there are no bright spots in the show. Some clever visual tricks incorporating scarves are memorable, as are the tri-voiced format and some powerful scenes and imagery. With strong performances and admirable and original aim, the production has much to be appreciated. It’s just hard not to long for a little more depth to accompany such a compelling concept.
We Tiresias is at Round House Silver Spring through January 13. Running time is about 70 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($15) are available through Forum Theatre’s website.