The principal themes in The Gospel at Colonus are redemption and reconciliation, both important themes in Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy and a number of other plays from the classical Greek theater. In The Gospel at Colonus, these themes are viewed vicariously as the Pentecostal preacher creates vivid images of Oedipus’s suffering for his congregation. Moreover, these images are experienced through the black Pentecostal ritual that becomes an integral part of the play’s blending of ancient and contemporary theatrical forms. In the myth of Oedipus, a certain timelessness is explored in the matters of fate and individual responsibility, the respect for and adherence to both God-given and human-made laws (and the potential conflict therein), and in the possibility of grace and redemption through suffering. Other themes that are explored include family loyalty and family treachery, and the ultimate exaltation of good over evil, of light over darkness, and of spiritual sight over physical blindness. These themes are realized by Oedipus as he accomplishes his destiny and are witnessed and celebrated by the black Pentecostal congregation as they apply the themes to their everyday lives. The importance of these themes are demonstrated by the use of the Oedipus story and are underscored and given depth through the performative power of gospel music in the black Pentecostal tradition.
The title of the play is significant. In the Christian tradition, “gospel” typically refers to the sharing of good news about Jesus Christ. Thus, spreading the gospel means sharing that good news with others. In this curious theatrical blend of pagan and Christian traditions, Lee Brewer locates that kernel of good—truth—in the experiences of Oedipus and shares that truth with others, namely, contemporary black America, in a tremendous celebration of all that is good and right in the world.