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A CurtainUp Review
Too Much Memory
By Elyse Sommer
Reddin and Gibson` are hardly the first to bring the ancient Greeks into a modern setting; in fact their script is a very loose adaptation of French playwright Jean Anouilh's Antigone which had a World War II setting. However, what they've created is as nifty a re-invention as I've seen in a long while. No wonder it won the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Play during its initial run.
The streamlined, dynamic staging by Gibson 9wearing her director's hat) puts all the usual backstage business happening right in front of you, making It easily accessible, even if your knowledge of things Greek is limited to Greek diner food. That's not to say that the play doesn't feature all the traditional roles: Creon (Peter Jay Fernandez), Antigone's sister Ismene (Aria Alpert), Creon's Son Haemon (Seth Numrich), Creon's wife Eurydice (Wendy Vanden Heuvel). They and other cast members (most of whom are reprising their Fringe parts) wander on stage even before the lights dim and the drama begins. They chat with each other (though all we hear is the mood-setting hum of Brandon Epperson's sound design) and two actors who will assume the role of soldiers perform some fairly amazing aerobic feats.
The very first performer on stage is Martin Moran who, as it turns out, will serve as a one man Chorus. It's a crucial role as this chorus character serves as a scene setter and wrily comic commentator. Moran plays him with ease and endearing charm that begins with the opening monologue in which he amusingly explains that what you're about to see is one of those old Greek stories "that never die" but why it defies precise genre classification ("what you're about to see is an adaptation of an adaptation of a re-translation."). He then points to all the actors sitting all around the bare stage, providing us with an itty bitty resume as well as telling us what part each will be playing. The usual cell phone and fire exit message is an organic component of this introductory spiel.
The present in which Antigone's story unfolds is very much torn from the headlines seeded by the Iraq War. The cut and pasted snippets of published words by Richard Nixon, Tom Hayden, Peter Brook, Anne Carson, Pablo Neruda, Susan Sontag, and Hannah Arendt evoke a sense of a surreal history play. These smartly integrated quotes are especially effective when Antigone's quarrel with her uncle Creon about her brother's burial turns into a scene reminiscent of a Congressional committee hearing.
As Moran points out in those introductory bios of the actors, Laura Heisler is indeed one of our most impressive young thespians, and with Antigone she adds a wonderflly textured performance to her resume. She navigates the slippery slope between the same sort of stubborn insistence on the right thing as Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, the joy of young love, and the ultimately visceral realization of what will be the consequences (a horrible death) of her "civil disobedience. She's absolutely riveting in that moment of uncontrolled panic.
The story moves to its explosive end (Moran's Chorus has forewarned us that these Greek myths aren't called tragedies for nothing and always end badly) in 65 minutes that fly by but feel rich and full as a longer play. The rest of the ensemble is also excellent. Peter Jay Fernandez's Creon is aptly understated, always the bureaucratic, man in a suit. His persona as what might oxymoronically be described as a reasonable dictator, is no less appalling than a Hitler or Saddam Hussein. type tyrant. Aria Alpert also opts for understatement in the less showy role of the fiery Antigone's older sister who's more acquiescent to the rules of unjust laws. Seth Numrich as Creon's son and Antigone's lover and Wendy Vanden Heuvel, as Creon's long suffering wife of convenience, make the most of their brief opportunities for passionate rebellion. Ray Anthony Thomas is superb as Jones, the soldier who represents the "I'm only doing my duty" mantra that allows history to repeat itself.
When it's all over, the Chorus tells us that" we can gather our coats, our umbrellas and bags". and forget these characters. But if you recall his introduction, he also told us that we have an obligation " to speak up." The playwrights and the cast of Too Much Memory have certainly used their interpretation of Antigone's story to "speak up" in a chilling yet entertaining way that you won't be likely to forget all that quickly.