OEDIPUS and NUNSENSE now playing in the Pacific Palisades Hills

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ASL actors Alexandria Wailes as Jocasta and Russell Harvard as Oedipus in the J. Paul Getty Museum and Deaf West Theatre’s production of OEDIPUS at the Getty Villa Outdoor Stage. (Photo by Craig Schwartz)

By Shari Barrett

The J. Paul Getty Museum and Los Angeles’s Tony Award®-winning Deaf West Theatre are presenting a unique, visually rich and innovative reimagining of Sophocles classic play, OEDIPUS, as a bilingual production in American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English. Directed by Jenny Koons as the 16th annual outdoor theater production at Getty Villa Museum, the extraordinary staged play, which is part ballet thanks to exquisite ASL choreography by Andrew Morrill and Alexandria Wailes, combines ASL and present-day technology, bringing new artistic facets to a classic piece of Greek literature.

Oedipus is a classic true crime story, as a man tries desperately to solve a murder in order to save his city. Our retelling digs deep into the suspense of the story with all the elements of a thriller, including false leads, fuzzy memories, and a looming prophecy from a mysterious Oracle,” says Jenny Koons, director and adaptor. Her insightful vision breathes new life into this classic murder mystery, political thriller, and psychological whodunit, thanks to The Getty Museum’s mission to inspire a passion for the past and kindle memories of captivating stories of gods, heroes, and villains from centuries ago. 

But it is the skill of the fabulous cast of actors, most of whom perform their roles using ASL to express all their deeply heartfelt emotions, who raise this theatrical piece beyond just a mere retelling of the story. They have created a totally new play encompassing the true brilliance of a breathtaking, magical theatrical experience under the stars.

The outstanding cast includes Russell Harvard in the title role of King Oedipus whose every shocking discovery will tear at your heartstrings just as it does his; Matthew Jaeger who shadows Harvard as Oedipus’ Advisor while speaking the lines being presented by Harvard in ASL; Alexandria Wailes as Oedipus’ wife and Queen Jocasta who understands the truth before he does but cannot bear to reveal it; Jon Wolfe Nelson as her brother Creon, the most righteous and capable politician, who performs the role in both ASL and spoken English; Ashlea Hayes as the psychic Tiresias whose expressive movements are wondrous to behold; and Andrew Morrill as the Chorus Leader who reacts to the secrets being revealed and guides the talented ensemble in their many dazzling production numbers. Ensemble members include Treshelle Edmond, Amelia Hensley, Gregor Lopes (also as the Corinthian who arrives with news that shakes Oedipus to his core), On Shiu (who often speaks the lines of ASL actors), and Akia Takara as the Shepherd who heartbreakingly, yet expectedly, confirms Oedipus’ true parents.

Technical merits lift the atmosphere of the production to breathtaking heights, including set design by Tanya Orellana, costumes by Jojo Siu, lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg, projection design by Yee Eun Nam, and music and sound design by Peter Bayne. DJ Kurs and Laura Hill produce for Deaf West Theatre, whose mission to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing communities succeeds beyond all expectations of what can be accomplished.

Performances of OEDIPUS on the outdoor stage at the Getty Villa, located at 17985 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades 90272, take place at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays through Oct. 1. Tickets for Thursday night performances are $40. ($36 for students and seniors), Friday night performances are $42, and Saturday night performances are $48. Student and senior discounts are offered for Thursday night performances only. Tickets are available by calling (310) 440-7300 or at https://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/performances/outdoor_theater.html  The play contains sexual situations that are not recommended for persons under the age of 15. Masks are optional outdoors for all vaccinated audience members. Parking is $10 per car and proof of advance ticket purchase must be shown for admittance onto the property.

During NUNSENSE, Sister Mary Amnesia, Mother Superior Mary Regina, and Sister Mary Hubert go over recipes in Sister Julia Child of God’s cookbook. Just never try them yourself since she poisoned 52 nuns with her vichyssoise. (L-R Julie Hinton, Valerie Sullivan, Jacquelyn Levy) (Photo by Joy Daunis)

Are you ready to forget your troubles for a few hours and laugh along with five amazingly talented actors who portray five singing and dancing sisters from Mt. Saint Helen’s Catholic School? Then head on over to Theatre Palisades for the musical comedy NUNSENSE by Dan Goggin, directed with marvelous whimsy by Alta Abbott, with musical direction by Bill Wolfe, choreography by Victoria Miller, and assistant directed by Greg Abbott who focuses the spotlight during performances. Stage Manager Peter Miller takes on the role of a Padre from time-to-time, looking after the nuns as they roam through the audience.

This hilarious spoof about the misadventures of five nuns trying to manage a fundraiser to bury the remaining four nuns who died from botulism after eating vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia Child of God, takes a turn for hilarity as they stage a talent show to cover the costs. Laughter abounds during 20 musical numbers featuring ballet-loving Sister Leo (Lindsay Kazan), street-wise Sister Robert Anne (Savannah Ludwig), befuddled Sister Mary Amnesia (Julie Hinton), the Mother Superior Sister Regina (Valerie Sullivan) and mistress of the novices Sister Mary Hubert (Jacquelyn Levy). These talented performers with strong, belting voices and excellent comic timing, harmonize beautifully like the heavenly beings they are portraying. Audiences will be laughing from start to finish! Just be prepared to play your part as the nuns often interact directly with audience members.

Alta Abbott has done a brilliant job surrounding herself with the perfect cast and supporting team to make this family-friendly musical one that is sure to be a hit with audiences of all ages. Produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne, NUNSENSE performances take place through Oct. 2 on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at Theatre Palisades Pierson Playhouse, located at 941 Temescal Canyon Rd, Pacific Palisades 90272. General admission tickets are $27; seniors and students $25. Order in advance by calling (310) 454-1970 or visiting http://www.theatrepalisades.org. Tickets are also available at the box office prior to each performance. Runs with one intermission. Free parking onsite. All patrons must wear a face mask while in the theater.

OEDIPUS and NUNSENSE now playing in the Pacific Palisades Hills