Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Too Much Memory


By Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson. Directed by Gibson. At New York Theatre Workshop. (CLOSED)

Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's update of Antigone Jean Anouilh and Chuck Mee's found text collage got mostly high marks at first, but has accumulated enough detractors to pull its score down a bit. Boosters praise the acting (particularly Laura Heisler and Peter Jay Fernandez) and the simple no-frills dramatic reinvention and updating of the text. Dissenters find the play's leftie politics tiresome and one-note and its text unprofound.

Tynan's Anger A
(Ethan Stanislawski) That ideas persist doesn't mean they ever get settled, but the human need to resolve them is an essential part of our existence. That Reddin and Gibson see this view in all its complexity makes Too Much Memory one the most vital theatrical adaptations of the present day, and one of the most intelligent adaptations I've ever seen. No matter whether you're resigned or perpetually frustrated by politics, philosophy, or any other aspect of human life, there's a side to Too Much Memory that will make you think differently. And that's the best thing any adaptation can ever do.

CurtainUp A
(Elyse Sommer) In case you're keeping a list of interesting smartly crafted and performed live theater offerings with tickets priced at a user-friendly $20, put Too Much Memory right at the top of the list.

NYTimes A
(Anita Gates) The accomplishment of the script, Ms. Gibson’s direction and Ms. Heisler’s forcefully raw performance as Antigone is to contemporize not just the cosmetics but also the motivations. This Antigone is an idealistic political rebel, starry-eyed and prepared for death — until it’s imminent. She’s rash and foolish and absolutely in the right.

Talkin' Broadway A-
(Matthew Murray) This play does not look, sound, or behave like any other Greek tragedy some director has callously “updated” with modern accoutrements, obscuring with a layer of dust the latent meaning two dozen centuries couldn’t hide. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new work with a historical basis. In its rigorous rethinking of everything that composes its story, it recalls Charles Mee’s own Greek revampings, even going so far as to incorporate excerpts from famous folk as diverse as Richard Nixon, Peter Brook, and Susan Sontag.

Time Out NY B+
(David Cote) [An] earnest and fitfully engrossing Antigone update... Though the politics aren’t exactly revolutionary, Heisler’s emotionally searing work takes us on a harrowing journey from righteousness to animal terror. Minimally but sharply staged by Gibson, Too Much Memory reminds us why we do these bloody old tragedies, again and again.

Theatermania B+
(Dan Balcazo)The work owes more to Jean Anouilh's version of the tale than Sophocles' actual Greek tragedy. Indeed, Too Much Memory derives several of its scenes directly from those of the French playwright ...Too Much Memory may not be the definitive version of Antigone's story, but it is an engaging interpretation that successfully transposes the action to a modern setting, and explores political choices, compromises, and punishments that are analogous to those faced by contemporary leaders on both the national and international fronts.

Associated Press B+
(Jennifer Farrar) Gibson keeps this drama moving briskly. Outstanding ensemble acting highlights the clash of principles that propels Creon and Antigone, as well as the conflict between Antigone's love for her family and Haemon versus her determination to stand by her beliefs. Laura Heisler's Antigone is ably rendered, yet, clad in childlike clothing and rubber boots, she seems at times more stubborn than genuinely tragic. Peter Jay Fernandez crisply portrays Creon as an embattled politician trying to keep public order. B
(Martin Denton) Neither Creon nor Antigone is ultimately the most memorable character here. Jones, a soldier in Creon's army—the one who first reports Antigone's offense and later serves as her guard—is the man we are most able to identify with...Ray Anthony Thomas makes Jones a very sympathetic everyman, caught within the ethical and moral dilemmas of the play...A few of the specific choices that Gibson has made as director confused me...But the impetus for putting this new take on Antigone before audiences in 2008 always feels clear and potent, and the production thrives on its pertinence and its admirable conciseness.

Village Voice B-
(Michael Feingold) The old tale's power remains tangible; Reddin and Gibson (the latter also directed) try a variety of methods for rousing it to life. Intermittently, they succeed: Antigone's defiance can't lack relevance to a time that holds so much worth defying. Their partial success prods up recollections of both the craziness waiting for us outside the theater and the innumerable stabs made over the past century, by equally brave and sometimes wiser artists, at giving the myth immediacy. Laura Heisler and Peter Jay Fernandez, playing Antigone and Creon, often seem, like the authors, to be pushing at the material, as if trying to see how far into the present it will go. Unfinished, provocative, and occasionally wrenching, the result is less like catharsis than a constant ache; it doesn't gratify, but it tells you you're alive.

Variety C+
(Sam Thielman) But then comes the preaching. Like the Anouilh play, the cornerstone of Too Much Memory is a lengthy debate between the two antagonists. Even in occupied France, though, Anouilh found the gray areas -- what if there was a possibility it was really Eteocles' body, not Polynices'? Should Antigone die horribly as a grand gesture? Those questions have been excised from this version, allowing it to become a kind of liberal persecution fantasia about the evil that Republican men do. Which is a shame, because it's possible to write a version in which the politics play second fiddle to the tragedy of Creon's ruined family, and the audience has to think hard about whether or not Antigone did the right thing. Sophocles did it; perhaps someday someone else will, too.

New Yorker C-
In Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson’s modern-day adaptation of Sophocles’ eponymous tragedy, Antigone is such a selfish, tiresome brat that one feels more sympathy for Creon. Reddin and Gibson may have intended that, but they couldn’t have intended the hour-long show to feel like forever on account of it.

Backstage C-
(Gwen Orel) Too Much Memory wants to say something about politics and justice: There are forums after some performances with guest speakers such as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Jared Bernstein from the Economic Policy Institute. But this retelling of the tragedy, described humorously by a one-man chorus (Martin Moran) as "an adaptation of an adaptation of a retranslation," presents too many stereotypes to drive the issues home.

TA A 13; CU A 13; NYT A 13; TB A- 12; TONY B+ 11; TM B+ 11; AP B+ 11; B 10; VV B- 9; Variety C+ 8; Backstage C-6; New Yorker C- 6; TOTAL: 123/12=10.25 (B)

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