Dangerous liaison: Slave story mimics Oedipus
We all know the story of Oedipus, the flawed protagonist of Sophocles' monumental Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, who– just as it was prophesied he would– killed his own father and married his mother. Rita Dove, the renowned poet whose honors include the Pultizer Prize for poetry and a stint as Poet Laureate of the United States, incorporates Sophocles' themes in her critically acclaimed verse drama, The Darker Face of the Earth.
Set on a South Carolina plantation in the 1840s, Dove's play tells the story of two characters, Amalia and Augustus, who are drawn into a passionate and dangerous relationship that ultimately fulfills their tragic destiny.
Through the Prologue for The Darker Face of the Earth we learn the story of Amalia, a plantation owner's wife who gives birth to a male child fathered by Hector, an African slave. Despite Amalia's grief, the child, ordered to be killed by Amalia's husband, Louis, is instead sold into slavery. Twenty years later, Amalia is running the plantation when a new rebellious slave, Augustus Newcastle, is purchased. And the tragedy that follows is set in motion.
"The poetic power and fiery passions of the play attracted me," says Jackson Smith, a theater professor and director at Oberlin College, where the play was produced in 1999. "I wanted to find a play that would tell the emotional and complicated truth of slavery, one that would demonstrate the power of African-Americans to resist their condition and one that illuminates the sad paradoxes of a sick family system– one we are still affected by as Americans."
The Darker Face of the Earth had its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 1996 before going on to be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theater in London, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and the Fountain Theater in Los Angeles. Teresa Dowell-Vest, a well-known local performer, directs the Charlottesville premiere of the work as part of Piedmont Virginia Community College's 2002-2003 production season.
Tickets are available now for the play, which opens on November 7, and plays through November 10, then resumes its run the next weekend, November 14-17. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm. Sunday at 2:30pm. Dickinson Main Stage, Piedmont Virginia Community College, 501 College Dr. $6-10. 961-5376.