GK: . . . And now it's time for another Celebrity Classic, the voices you know bringing you the literature you love. This week: Oedipus the King, with Jack Nicholson as Oedipus, George Bush as Creon, and Edith Bunker as Jocasta. And now, Oedipus the King.
AP: Something is rotten in Thebes. . . The crops have withered, the livestock are sick, the plague afflicts us: the unburied dead are piled high in the dusty lanes, and we, the people of Thebes, grieving and mortified, gather before the palace to beseech our king. . . (GATES OPEN, CLOSE) And here he is, Oedipus Rex.
TR (NICHOLSON): Hey, folks, I was just takin a few laps in the pool----heard a lotta wailin and moanin and prayin, couldn't help noticin all the corpses stacked up on the streets. . . Is somethin wrong?
O, wise king:
Your brother-in-law Creon
Has gone to see the oracle at Delphi
To see if there is any
Hope for wretched Thebes.
Here comes Creon now.
TR (BUSH): Well, got some information, useful information, not fun stuff necessarily: but useful, sure, good information, gotta love that Oracle at Delphi, you want an Oracle, you want Delphi, that's what I say.
CHORUS: What did you find out, Creon?
TR (BUSH): Well, Apollo says we can get through this thing once we nail the guys who killed Laius---- Laius, you know, he was king around here, used to be married to Jocasta, until he got killed by some fellas, Oedipus, and then you showed up and married Jocasta and became king, believe that's how it went.
TR (NICHOLSON): Okay, I'm gonna find whoever killed ol Laius and save Thebes. Any a you here kill Laius? (CROWD MURMURS) Who dusted the dude? Whoever it was, we're gonna drive him outta Thebes and let him wander in exile the rest of his life. And no one's gonna go and water his plants or feed his cat.
AP: (OFF) Umm. . . Question?
TR (NICHOLSON): We gotta question?
AP: (OFF) Over here, your majesty?
TR (NICHOLSON): Yeah?
AP: Old Tiresias, the soothsayer. . . Couldn't we just ask him who did it? (PAUSE.)
TR (NICHOLSON): I was just about to say, someone get old Tiresias, the soothsayer, so we can ask him who did it.
(TK: SEND FOR TIRESIAS! --- REPEAT SERIES)
Behold! Tiresias approaches.
TR (NICHOLSON): Yo, Tiresias, here's the deal: the Oracle at Delphi told Creon we could get things goin' again here in Thebes once we nail whoever killed King Laius. So, who did it?
TR (PEROT): Look, Oedipus, yer like the possum that chased his own tail and ended up with his head in a very dark place, if you know what I mean.
TR (NICHOLSON): If ya know who did it, spit it out.
TR (PEROT): All right, all right, I'll tell ya who killed Laius: you did. It's as simple as that.
TR (NICHOLSON): Seize him! (COMMOTION) Why is he tryin ta pin it on me? Why?
(GATES OPEN AND CLOSE. FOOTSTEPS.)
AP: Here comes the queen! (TK SERIES: The queen!)
TR (EDITH): Oh, Oedipus! Whatta you doin with that sawd---- all a Thebes fallin apart like an overcooked awtichoke and you hawllerin at each other and wavin' sawds.
The killer of King Laius
TR (EDITH): Tiresias the prophet? He said that.
TR (EDITH): Oh, Oedipus! Ya can't listen to prophets, they're crazy. A lawng, lawng time ago a prophet come to Laius, rest his soul, and said he'd be killed by his own son. So we gave our little son to a servant t' throw awf a mountain. And Laius was killed by burglars at some intasection.
Behold our king!
The blood leaves his face!
TR (NICHOLSON): Did she say an intersection?
TR (EDITH): Shoor, shoor, out where ya got yer road from Delphi, and yer road from Thebes. . .
Behold our king!
See him sweat and tremble.
TR (NICHOLSON): When was this? What'd Laius look like? Who was with him? How many men?
TR (EDITH): Laius? Oh, he was handsome, and swarthy, and he was with four men, Oedipus, and they was travellin' in a wagon.
Behold his look of horror!
TR (EDITH): Only one man returned and I think he went off to the hills to become a shepherd.
AP: You mean the shepherd on Mount Cithaeron?
TR (EDITH): Right.
TR (NICHOLSON): Well? Someone go get that shepherd. (FOOTSTEPS). My father was Polybus, king of Corinth. My mother was Merope. Once an oracle told me that I'd kill my father and marry my mother so I ran away from Corinth and I came to a place where three roads met and here comes a wagon, some guy tellin' me to get out of his way, ---he's got some goons, and they come at me, and I draw my sword and kill em all.
A messenger comes!
TR (MR ROGERS): Candygram for Mr. Oedipus. You must be Mr. Oedipus. Do you know how I knew? Hm? Do you? Because of your big pretty crown. Yes, that's a very big crown. Would you like your message? Would ya? Hm? It says: Mr. Oedipus. Good news and bad news. Polybus is dead. Corinth salutes you as their lawful king. But the bad news: Mrs. Merope, queen of Corinth, isn't really your mother, is she? No, she isn't. Polybus and Merope never had a little boy. Do you know what Infertility means? Do you?
AP: But then who are Oedipus's parents?
TR (MR ROGERS): Do you like secrets? Well, I'll tell you a secret. I was the one who brought little Mr. Oedipus to Corinth. Yes I was. A shepherd gave him to me. Yes, he did.
Was it this shepherd here?
TR (KISSINGER): Yes, it was me. Vun day somevun approach me vis a little baby and said that I should trow zis little baby off ze mountain. In my opinion zis vus an inappropriate use of a baby. So I give him to Ze Candygram Man.
TR (NICHOLSON): Let's relax people. Listen, shepherd, where'd you get this baby?
TR (KISSINGER): Right here. At the palace.
Behold the queen!
TR (EDITH): Ohhhhhhhhhh!
(FOOTSTEPS. GATES OPEN AND CLOSE.)
The truth crashes down!
Oedipus, son of Laius,
And his murderer too,
It's you! You!
TR (NICHOLSON): Hey, get your hands off me.
Oedipus, now according to legend,
You must gouge out your eyes
And wander in exile, in grief and horror.
TR (NICHOLSON): You've got to be kidding. I'm not going to gouge out my eyes. What do you think I am?
But you murdered your father
And you married your mother.
TR (NICHOLSON): So? Get me a lawyer. Who defended the Menendez brothers? I'm going to argue temporary insanity.
You're supposed to gouge out your eyes.
TR (NICHOLSON): That was then. This is now. Call me a literary agent. I want to tell my side of this. Call the talk shows. CHORUS:
Our miserable and cursed' king,
Born beneath a tragic hex:
Whatever Oedipus touches,
Sure enough: Oedipus wrecks.
GK: The six-minute Oedipus, this week's Celebrity Classic.
© 1996 BY GARRISON KEILLOR