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Like a jazz musician improvising on familiar theme, Sam Shepard's A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) riffs on the old Sophocles tragedy of a king who can't shake the prophecy that he'll wind up killing his dad and marrying his mother. But the playwright so obliquely varies from the source that finding a dramatic connection between his varying scenes is a chore.

Stephen Rea and Lloyd Hutchinson (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Stephen Rea, who plays Oedipus and his contemporary counterpart, Otto, is artistic director of the Field Day Theatre Company in Northern Ireland, which was the setting for the play's 2013 premiere production in Derry. The Signature's Theatre Company's American premiere utilizes an alternate version of the text, set in the American southwest.

Designer Frank Conway's white tile set vividly displays the abundance of stage blood and provides a perch for cellist (and composer) Neil Martin and guitarist Todd Livingston to play their gloom-prophesizing music, but though director Nancy Meckler's stylized production is intriguing, it never digs its way out of the clutter that is the script.

A police officer and a forensic investigator (Jason Kolotouros and Matthew Rauch) banter professionally as they inspect the roadside where three dead bodies were found. Those familiar with the Sophocles drama will catch on to the parallels.

At his home, the wheelchair-bound (another parallel) Otto, takes a keen interest in the case, as he first reads of it in the newspaper. Otto's wife (Brid Brennan) and daughter (Judith Roddy) correspond to those of the Oedipus story, as do the eccentric butcher, Uncle Del (Lloyd Hutchinson), and the sexually frustrated Lawrence (Aidan Redmond).

Despite a game cast, the blurry separation between the ancient characters and their modern representations, and the seemingly random way in which the scenes are presented, keep A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) from sustaining much interest.

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