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Incest: Not such an old story – Jocasta Regina at Theatre Inconnu

“If you want to really do something revolutionary, write a play.” I never thought I’d hear those words from my Dad, and he’s exactly right. Here’s why: With difficult subjects, which are plentiful in life, art is one of the only ways to present them that can’t really be argued with. In life, we can read or be told things, but until we experience them – until our body can feel them viscerally – I don’t believe we can really understand them.

And this – is what I love about acting, and theatre. It’s a way to understand things without having to experience them ourselves. And I truly don’t believe there’s any other medium – other than amazing tv or film – that is capable of this. It’s like that horrible and fantastic scene in Breaking Bad where one sibling hurts another, and the father holds the hurt son’s head underwater until he starts to panic just before he drowns, while the older sibling watches. A quick lesson in why not to hurt your sibling – make them feel the end desire of their motivation – make them feel. Great actors make us feel; great writing makes us think. Theatre Inconnu’s Jocasta Regina, written by Nancy Huston and directed by Clayton Jevne, does exactly that.

I witnessed incest growing up in a few instances – cousin with cousin, father with daughter, and a mother with her son. I don’t think many people discuss it, and I’d wager at least ten bucks I’m not alone. Apparently, when mother and son are separated early on – when the son is given up for adoption – it’s quite a common reaction to want to have sex when reunited. Who knew eh? Oedipus – this story ancient as the Greeks – is modernized and humanized in Jocasta Regina through modern wardrobe, modern language, and a fantastic sarcastic narrator/commentator that pops into the play like Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

The play is a rock tumbler full of opposites – life and death, youth and age, the narrator/commentator and Eudoxia, Jocasta’s lady in waiting, the two sisters – even the sound design seems to echo the opposites – the eerie soundtrack sounded like an Arabic recording in reverse. The central dichotomy of mother/wife and husband/son comes apart at the seams right before our eyes in the characters. “Life can only be woven in the dark,” says Jocasta, but it seems death may start its dissolve in the light. 

Jocasta Regina is paradox personified. And we get to feel it. The love of a mother for her son; the love of a woman for a man. Does… not … compute. Wait, does compute. Wait…..

Of course, the only way we get to feel anything as audience is if the actors are genuinely feeling anything on stage. Bravo to Wendy Magahay – one of Victoria’s finest actors, and a bit of a well-kept secret – and to Montgomery Bjornson for creating such palpable chemistry it would make the meekest of us start to sweat, and for falling apart in the end scene to the point of drool. Magahay’s soliloquy in the end brought me to tears, and she’s got a hard-to-rival bat-shit crazy.

What was fantastic was being aware of the visceral disgust I felt watching the first half of the play as mother and son were sexual; I found myself at first wishing I didn’t know the story so that judgment wouldn’t be there, and then, more interesting I found was seeing how that judgment coloured the story. Could I actually get past my beliefs (insert 3 of Trump’s “wrong”s here) to try to understand the moment in front of me from the characters’ perspectives? “Her stories turned the palace from a dungeon to a paradise,” Jocasta tells us, about Eudoxia’s support during her first loveless marriage – another paradox as she tells us he liked boys better – showing us how words shape and colour what we see. “Son” certainly shapes Oedipus’ reality.

Thank you Clayton Jevne for making us experience cognitive dissonance with such a classic tale. From his director’s notes “Huston encourages us to “think through” our own perspectives that have been limited by the voices of authority (be they religious, political or cultural). These voices dictate how we should interpret (or ignore) the motivations and consequences of action.” Not to mention for staging a play that I at one point realized “hey, there’s only one male in this.”

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I dare you to step out of your comfort zone… and into the theatre.

You’ve got one more week. 

– Leanne Allen

Jocasta Regina plays at Theatre Inconnu at 1923 Fernwood until May 20