Gord Rand is new to Stratford; he did one studio production back in 2002 but Oedipus really feels like a brand new introduction. Like with Maev Beaty last season, this is a strange reality that gets people talking about a well-established and highly respected performer as if they are just now being discovered. In the somewhat insular Stratford world, it seems that a game-changing new talent has broken through with a bold, vulnerable and commanding performance in one of the season’s few particularly excellent shows. To the larger theatre-going community, this grand emergence feels less like a startling triumph and more like overdue acknowledgment- our country’s most prestigious theatre company has finally met the Gord Rand we already know and love and, so far, they’re really hitting it off.
Stratford’s intense one-act adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy is largely a one-man spotlight piece with Rand’s performance as the son-turned-murderer-turned-king-turned-complex dramatically overshadowing his surroundings. But director Daniel Brooks does manage to interpret the well-known tale with some interesting insight, creating a starkly modern world with sharp nods to totalitarianism and almost Scientologistic cult undertones in the chorus. The flawless Shannon Taylor kicks off the action as a badass priestess in a strongly felt and engagingly infuriated confrontation with Rand’s entitled CEO of an Oedipus. Nigel Bennett’s androgynous Teiresias makes a splash with some insight into a seer’s forward-thinking refusal to acknowledge gender limitations.
But, ultimately, it’s Rand and Rand alone who runs the show, deftly carving sympathy from a hard-to-love antihero whose very name is often a punchline. It’s as commanding a debut (or re-debut, I guess) as the festival has ever seen and a huge testament to the sort of mind-blowing talent that’s always been there, just outside the palace gates.