Doomstruck Oedipus, Why Are You Here?


Part 1.

(Sarah walks onstage and stands, looking out at the audience.  She shares the space with a plinth on which is a script and 8 post cards.)

Good evening.
My name is Sarah Mainwaring
and tonight
for you
I am Oedipus the King.

If we are going to get along
it’s important that you know this
that you understand
what I have said
and what I am about to say.

Language is the main instrument of our refusal to accept the world as it is.

Language is the main instrument of our refusal to accept the world as it is.

There have been many other instruments
in our refusal to accept
the world as it is:
to name just a few
right now
we will concentrate on language.

My name is Sarah Mainwaring
and tonight
for you
I am Oedipus the King.

Your King.

I am Sarah Mainwaring.
And tonight
I am also Oedipus the King.

I’m standing here
assuming a role – several roles,
the more well known
one being
one of
the most
most researched
most freighted roles in the history of Western Civilisation.

The play
Oedipus the King was first staged in Athens in 429 BC.
It is a play about knowledge
and identity.
It is the story of a City becoming a city
the story of a people questioning themselves
defining themselves.

5th Century Athens:
A place
a time
an idea
a photograph
a post card 
an object.

This object is like us
our subject.

Are these things
in our hands
our equals?

We are things too.

Like us
are constantly exchanged.
Like us
things are
we make them so.

Images are things too.

To participate in the image as a thing
means to participate in its potential agency.

Something vigorous
something viral
never full or glorious
mostly rubbish…
How are we different?

(Sarah holds up a post card of the Coliseum.)
What about
The Roman Empire?
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

(Sarah holds up a post card of Notre Dame Cathedral.)
The Middle Ages?
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

(Sarah holds up a post card of Michelangelo’s David.)
The Renaissance?
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

(Sarah holds up a post card of a painting of Martin Luther.)
The Reformation?
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

(Sarah holds up a post card of Delacroix’s Liberty.)
The Enlightenment?
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

(Sarah holds up a post card of a B&W picture of a coal mine.)
The Industrial Revolution?
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

(Sarah holds up a post card of a painting of a map and a sailing ship.)
(She tosses the post card onto the floor.)

These things
are the fruits of our
Western Civilisation.
This is our history.
This is the story of how we all got here.

When Sophocles began writing The Theban Plays
5th century Athens was coming to terms
with many things:
the plague
the end of the reign of tyrants
the concept of democracy
a shift in the economy from grower/producer
to trader/merchant
all the while debating
the primacy
of the laws of the family
versus those
of the Polis.

This is what tragedy was:
an expression of these conflicting
fundamental notions of what a group of people are
what a group of people can be.

these conflicts
within us
silenced, assumed.

Still we ask:
Who are we?

have made a world
in which
is triumphant
has been marginalised
and monied interests
have purchased
enough political infrastructure
to prevent reform.

We have made
a world
in which
the values of the free market
are mistaken
for a social framework –
a world
in which capital
is free to move about
but people are not.

is a world
institutions themselves
are paramount
and every day
human beings
matter less and less.

We made this
For me
for Oedipus
for us
has already happened:

Our tragedy has already occurred.

Oedipus believes he can fix it.
Oedipus refuses to accept the world as it is.

My name is Sarah Mainwaring
and tonight
I am Oedipus the King.

Part 2.

(HaiHa and Mariaa come out carrying a TV and VCR. They place these things on the plinth, Sarah plugs them in. Mariaa and Sarah leave the stage.  Haiha stands next to the TV; on the screen is a B&W image of a smiling blonde woman.)

Imagine this:
at your feet, on the floor
while you were shooting this video
two kittens were playing
with a ball of red wool.

One of them is licking your ankle
its tongue is small
strong and rough.

It doesn’t feel bad…it tickles.

You wonder
what it would feel like
to be licked
all over for a long time, by a much larger animal…

Up until the invention of photography
the past had to be taken on faith:
that is
you had to take somebody’s word or effort
regarding what had already happened.

Photography changed all that.
There it was
in black&white:
a view from a window in 1827 –
a dead man lying in bed –
a horse
all 4 hooves in the air.

Ocular proof.

Unlike any other visual image
a photograph is not a rendering or
an interpretation of its subject but a trace
like a footprint or a death mask.

No painting or drawing
no matter how realistic
belongs to its subject like a photograph does.

Cameras affix time and offer appearances
but they do not create or maintain meaning.
Only you can do that.

(and) Cameras affix only one concept of time.

What of all the other concepts of time?

What if time is also like a word or a sound?
Culturally based, ambiguous,
an edifice or threshold to meaning –
How would you affix that?

In this video
you’re naked
sitting on a block of ice
in front of a live
studio audience.

Or this:
you are looking at your lover and she is looking at you.
you stare longingly, lovingly into each other’s eyes….
you are so close
you can feel her breath, smell her skin.
Her eyes are brown – light brown
almost hazel with flecks of green in them.

you are so close you can see yourself
reflected in her eyes.

I am an actress.
(Starting from the present and working back, HaiHa lists her C.V.: the name of the PRODUCTION/FILM, her ROLE, the name of the DIRECTOR, and finally VENUE/PRODUCING BODY)

I remember
when I was a little girl
lying on the carpet
watching TV…
I really wanted to be on television – physically in it
in the world in that box.
Same with movies
I wanted to be up there
on the screen.

I was 18 when I auditioned for ‘The Story of Soil’.
For the first time
I was standing
in front of a director and he was telling me what to do.

He asked me to imagine a door.
I had to go and open this door
and show him what was out there:
I had to respond to the world I’d imagined.

I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness.
I saw a lot of doors.

Every Saturday
my brother
my mother and father
would go out witnessing.

we would be let in
for tea and polite conversation
but mostly the doors would open
and then quickly shut
or not be opened at all.

Now it’s your turn:
Close your eyes….
Go on, relax,
keep them closed;
I’ll tell you when you can open them.


Imagine a door
from a place you lived
when you first
moved away from home….

Do you see that door?

in your imagination
go and open that door….

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire!

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire! Yeah….


In April 1969
Jim Morrison -
the lead singer of the The Doors –
was arrested in Miami Florida
for exposing himself
on-stage, during a concert.

The Doors took their name from
The book ‘The Doors of Perception’
written by Aldous Huxley in 1954
who took the term from William Blake
who in 1793 wrote: 
‘If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.’

Open your eyes

For a few years
Jim Morrison was the sexiest man in rock and roll.
He was almost 6 foot tall
with thick lips and wavy light brown hair.
He sang in a chocolate baritone
and had one of the greatest rock and roll screams ever.

he was sex.

in the middle of an extended
organ solo
he unzips his leather pants and pulls out his penis.

Here was this
6 foot tall cock with wavy brown hair
performing for the world
and a second later
he’s just a guy
a regular fella

standing in front of 2000 or so people
with his fly open and his penis lolling about…

From ecstatic symbol to merely physical.


Remember when you first learned that word?
Like me, you probably were about twelve years old
and one day at school
one of the older kids asked you if you wanted to have
You screwed-up your face and said ‘no’
and then he said, innocently
‘what, you don’t want to talk to me?
Intercourse means to have a conversation!’

Our parents had sex.

We are having intercourse right now.
All mammals have sex.
As a species this is what we do,
otherwise, we die.

Imagine this:
You are wise and powerful and there is nothing you can’t do.
Nothing at all.
You are gracious and benevolent, patient and compassionate
but secretly
you know
you are better than everybody else:
a can-do sorta person;
not one to mope about asking do I dare and do I dare.
You act!

You have four children aged between
say, 10 and 16.
2 boys and two girls.
you have a loving wife
a good job
and live in a nice house.

But friends and neighbours are not well –
something is not right –
you must make it right –
you must fix things:
Only you can fix things.

While you are fixing things
you discover
that some years previous
in a fit of rage
you killed your father.

You didn’t know
that the person you killed was your father –
you thought
your father
was somebody else.
And your wife –
the woman you love, the mother of your children –
turns out to be yourmother, too.

You killed your father
married your mother,
and your children are your brothers and sisters.

Imagine her body
your mother’s body
the taste and smell of her skin
and how it responds to your touch.
Her breasts
how often as a child you cried
demanding them…

Your cock
her cock – you both like to say -
because she knows it so well:
She knows
how to touch it, kiss it;
make it ache with pleasure -
and how easy and often
your cock
stiff and demanding
finds its way into that filial furrow.

What do you think?
How do you react
to this change of circumstance -
the new you?

Do you want to end it all? Do you beg your friends to kill you?
Or, do you blind yourself and go wandering
using your youngest daughter/sister
as a sort of guide dog?
Do you say to yourself
as Odeipus did:  ‘I have been saved for something great and terrible, something strange.’

Here we are
all of us
at the end of your journey.

you are sitting by the side of the road
near a sacred grove
outside of Athens.

I am Theseus, King of Athens
and I have come to see you.
I’m standing in front of you
and I say:

In the old days I often heard your legend,
the bloody mutilation of your eyes…
I know all about you, son of Laius.
And now, seeing you at this crossroads,
beyond all doubt I know you in the flesh.
Your rags, your ravaged face –
it’s all too clear, they show me who you are,
and in all compassion I would ask, Oedipus,
doomstruck Oedipus, why are you here?
What appeal do you bring to Athens and to me?
You and the young girl, helpless at your side.

Tell me all.  Your story, your fortunes
would have to be grim indeed to make me turn
my back on you.  I too, remember well,
was reared in exile just like you,
and in strange lands, like no man else on earth,
I grappled with dangers pressing for my life.
Never, I tell you, I will never shrink
from a stranger, lost as you are now,
or fail to lend a hand and save a life.
I am only a man, Oedipus,
and I have no more power over tomorrow,
than you.

It is October 21, 2009
and this woman – Bec Reid –
(Pointing to the image on the TV.)
is sitting in her bedroom
listening to the radio
listening to news
of mudslides in Sumatra
and tsunamis in Samoa;
people are buried alive
and lost to the sea.
she looks into the lens of the camera
and wills a smile onto her face.

We thought
that making this with you
might tell us something about
who we are and how we came to be.

This is our only power over tomorrow.

Part 3.

(Mariaa and Sarah help HaiHa remove the TV and VCR.  HaiHa and Sarah take their seats as Mariaa places a digital camcoder on the plinth, facing the audience.  Mariaa walks offstage and sits on the steps the run between to sections of seats.  As she does so, she turns on a video a projector.  The lights on stage are dimmed, and the lights over the audience are brought up.  After 15 seconds, the image from the camera is projected on the back wall of the theatre. There is a 15 second delay in the image from the camera to its projection.)

They say you are my sister.

They say there is no grief that Zeus has not perfected for us:
They say that our father, Oedipus, died hated
his reputation in ruins.
They say his wife and mother – our mother –
was a suicide
tied bedding about her neck and hung herself.

They say both our brothers
are this day
They say Eteocles and Polynices
killed each other.

They say Creon is the king of Thebes.
They say he has decreed it a capital offence to bury Polynices.
They say Eteocles is to be given full military honours,
while Polynices is to lie unburied, undead, dishonoured.

They say he is your brother too.

They say Creon will sentence to death anyone who buries Polynices.

They say ‘what can we do? It is the law.’

They say Antigone is a crazed, grieving teenage girl.
They say Creon is an insecure, petty tyrant.

They say Antigone buried Polynices.

They say Antigone has a deathwish.

They say Haemon, Creon’s son is betrothed to Antigone.
They say Haemon tried to reason with Creon.
They say the citizens of Thebes were beginning to fear Creon.

They say Creon mocked Haemon and his reasoning.

They say the citizens of Thebes respect strong rulers.

They say Creon feels emasculated because Antigone
disobeyed his decree.

They say Creon ordered Antigone
to be walled-up in a cave with plenty of food and water;
that how she lives or dies
is none of his –
nor the people of Thebes –

They say Creon will rue the day he buried Antigone alive.

They say Antigone will hang herself.
They say Haemon will stab himself upon seeing his beloved, dead.
They say Euridyce, Creon’s wife, Haemon’s mother will kill herself at the news of her son’s suicide.

They say all of this will come to pass.

They say the dialectic of collision
between the universal and the particular
the sphere of the feminine hearth
and the masculine forum
the polarities of ethical substance
as they crystallise around
immanent and transcendent values
is now compacted
into the struggle
between Man (Creon)
and Woman (Antigone)
over the body of the dead (Polynices).

They say Antigone represents the transition
from a natural ethical community of the family
to the community
the superior law whose validity is openly apparent.

They say that law and desire are not at loggerheads,
but that the sublimity of the moral law isAntigone’s desire.

They say
Antigone is not a representative of a particular sphere at all –
household or state – but a figure for relational identities in crisis.
They say the war in Afghanistan is ‘a clash of civilisations’.

They say ‘History is a foreign country, they do things differently there’.

Numberless wonders terrible wonders walk the world
but none the match for man –
that great wonder crossing the heaving grey sea
driven on by the blasts of winter
through breakers crashing left and right
holds his course steady
and the oldest of the gods he wears away –
the Earth, the immortal, the inexhaustible –
as his plows go back and forth
year in
year out
with his well-bred stallions turning-up the dirt.

And the blithe lightheaded race of birds he snares
the tribes of savage beasts
the life that swarms the depths –
with one fling of his nets
woven and coiled tight
he takes them all
man the skilled, the brilliant!

He conquers all taming with his techniques
the prey that roams the cliffs and wild lairs
clamping the yoke across the shaggy neck of tireless bulls and horses.
And speech and thought quick as the wind
and the mood and mind for law that rules the city –
all these
he has taught himself
and shelter from the arrows of frost when there’s rough lodging
under the cold clear sky and the shafts of lashing rain –
ready, resourceful man!
Never without resources
never an impasse as he marches on the future –
only Death
from Death alone he will find no rescue
but from desperate plagues
he has plotted his escapes.

Man the master ingenious past all measure
past all dreams
the skills within his grasp –
he forges on, now to destruction
now on to greatness.

When he weaves in the laws of the land
and the justice of the gods that binds his oaths together
he and his city rise high –
but the city casts out
that man
who weds himself to inhumanity
thanks to reckless daring.

Never share my hearth
never think my thoughts
whoever does such things.

Sophocles wrote that –
or something to that affect –
two an a half centuries ago.

In his time, language written
had already been in the world
for 3 millennia.

There are about 6 thousand 9 hundred languages
in the world today.
Most of them are not written.
Most of them are sounds in time
words spoken or sung –
soundsmarking time and space;
culturally based, ambiguous,
thresholds to meaning:

I am Mariaa Randall.
I am a Bundjalung woman from the Far North Coast of NSW.
I am Sarah Mainwaring, I am HaiHa Le,
You are Oedipus at Colonus,
We are here.
They say tragedy is a dialogue between accident, destiny
and the actions of a hero.

Was it an accident, destiny or the actions of a hero,
that caused the genocide of my people?

Maybe the victors write tragedies to make sense of their actions
while the victims write comedies finding succour
in whim, happenstance, and the unravelling of the day to day:

A blackfella walks into a pub
and asks
the white publican
for some wine. 
The publican says:
'there are 3 types of wine 
red wine,
white wine
and plain
ordinary blackfella wine.’ 
The blackfella says:
‘did you know
there are 3 types of turd? 
and you
you big shit! 

Gimme the plain ordinary blackfella wine.’ 

We make the world with our words.

And in this world we give birth to Oedipus, we marry him,
are killed by him, sired by him, and at Colonus
we look upon his ravaged face
and see ourselves.
We bury him.

We kill our brother and are in turn killed by him.

Because we so love our brother, we honour him with a burial.
For this we are walled-up in a cave, and in that cave we will tie a veil about our neck, and hang ourself.

In this world
We do it out of grief
We do it out of ignorance
We do it out of fear
We do it out of love
We do it because it is our destiny
We do it because it is our duty.

When I stop speaking this world will end, but ‘we’ will not.