By Venus Zarris
After a bit of clever banter regarding current events and the nature of theatrical adaptation by the single person Greek chorus of this contemporized reimagining of Antigone, we are told that there is freedom in the ways that you can bring a classic story into the present. “We have that freedom, but like I said, in today’s world, things being what they are, I think we also have an obligation. To speak up.”
What follows this very promising and entertaining expository introduction is a lot of emoting that says very little. The biggest dramatic conflict in playwrights Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson’s Too Much Memory is not Antigone’s crisis of conviction, but rather the fact that there is nothing that believably justifies all of Antigone’s vitriolic and self-destructive anguish. In fact, we’re not really sure what her motivation is. We’re not sure if it is political principle, familial obligation or religious devotion; but we do know that she’s angry.
In this adaptation, just as in the original story, Antigone wants to bury the body of her disgraced brother. This goes against the direct decree of King Creon, as enemies of the state are not afforded such luxuries. The urgency of Antigone’s wishes in Sophocles’ tragedy was based on her brother’s passage to the afterlife. She sincerely believed that without the proper burial his immortal soul was doomed. The distinction of that motivation, or any other that would elicit such grave conviction, is not a priority here and hence Antigone is relegated to martyrdom for the sake of insolent stubbornness and the play is relegated surface melodrama.
Antigone is a martyr right out of the gate. In her first scene with her sister Ismene she whines about her sister’s famous beauty, even though Antigone has won the heart of a wonderfully loving man. She chastises her sister for not sharing in her death-sentence-plan to bury their brother.
“You’re afraid to die for something you believe in.” Antigone accuses.
“Of course I am.” Ismene freely admits.
“Then how can you live a life so compromised.” Antigone indicts but follows it up with no compelling reason, religious, political or otherwise, why they should take arms against such a sea of fatal sorrows.
Ismene however interjects perhaps the only compelling and honest reasoning in the script. She explains that their brother is dead, whereas they are alive. Burying him won’t bring him back but if they are arrested they shall be violated and killed. She knows what she can handle and she can’t handle that.
With no compelling reason to take on this hornet’s nest of doom, Ismene’s reasoning trumps any of Antigone’s self-righteous rants.
Antigone then moves on to be a martyr with her lover. After a passionate scene where he vehemently and joyfully declares is blissful love for her, she makes him promise to listen to what she has to say in silence and then leave. (For the record; this kind of stipulation before declaration is the stuff of preadolescent junior high relationships, should always raise a red flag and never be agreed to.) She tells him that she loves him, she cannot marry him and that he must go away.
She goes on to be a martyr when she is arrested and brought before the king, who tries to reason with her but she doesn’t budge. Creon informs Antigone that the brother that she is so worried about thought that she was unstable, wanted her to get therapy. Perhaps if that intervention were to have taken place then we wouldn’t have to sit through all of her maudlin brooding.
The king affords her a televised press conference/debate. Instead of using this as a platform to articulate her position in a way that would be convincing to anyone, she digresses into something resembling teenage angst.
The martyr theme is so strong that if this were in a Catholic setting you would almost expect Antigone to suffer from stigmata at some point in the story.
Reddin and Gibson bring the language of Sophocles’ characters into the 21st century. They give them smart phones and a multi-media framework but contemporary allusions do not a successful update make. There are references to the wars in the Middle East and the use of media to control the attitudes of the general public, but nothing is ever developed enough to make concrete connections or significant statements. What is lost is believable emotional and contextual content to back up the action. The result is a lot of theatrical grandstanding by an otherwise impressively talented cast.
The profound talent that SiNNERMAN Ensemble compiles for this production goes a long way to salvage the immature handling of this Greek classic. Set/Costume designer Stefin Steberl creates a minimal and sharply stylized look for the show. Director Anna Bahow keeps the play moving at a tight pace and gets the most out of her gifted ensemble. The staged violence is explosively realistic and humor of the play is handled well. Despite the shortcomings of the script, you are drawn into the strong performances.
Too Much Memory is an example of the theater company being more sophisticated and having more to offer than the material being presented. Despite the soap opera melodrama, this is an impressive and engaging effort. You just wish that the script lived up to the production as Too Much Memory delivers all of the tragedy of Antigone but none of the substance.
(“Too Much Memory” runs through November 13 at the Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis. 773-728-3361)
Too Much Memory production photos by Kevin Viol.
* Visit Theatre In Chicago for more information on this show. Too Much Memory – Side Project – Play Detail – Theatre In Chicago