Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fire Throws


Adapted from Sophocles' Antigone and directed by Rachel Dickstein. Music by Jewlia Eisenberg. Ripe Time at 3LD Art & Technology Center. (CLOSED)

The questions running through reviews of Rachel Dicktein's contemporary dance/theater re-vision of Antigone are: Does her double-Antigone concept work, and does the high-tech video design add anything to the ancient myth? Though the consensus answers seem to be "not really" and "no," most critics nevertheless enjoy themselves, with the vocal exceptions of the Times' Claudia La Rocco and the Voice's Tom Sellar.

Theatermania A-
(Andy Propst) Vibrant...Dickstein's chief innovation is to have the story unfold from the perspective of two Antigones. There is "Antigone Who Was" (played with earnest passion by Laura Butler), the fiery young woman who disobeys the edict of her uncle, King Creon (the commanding John Campion) and buries her brother Polyneices after he's killed during a siege he's instigated on the city of Thebes. And there's "Antigone Who Is" (the haunting Erica Berg), an incarnation of the character from the afterlife, who is revisiting her tragedy and brings a fascinating level of insight into her younger self's intentions...Dickstein's vision for the piece as a whole commands one's visceral attention. Jewlia Eisenberg's original score -- for strings, a single clarinet, percussion, and voice -- gives the entire production an otherworldly quality...While there are moments in which Dickstein's script thuds into banality, these lapses are brief and the production always rebounds quickly.

Talkin' Broadway B+
(Matthew Murray) Heavily stylistic, heavily choreographed, and heavy-duty reconstruction of Sophocles’s version of the age-old myth...If the story’s specifics don’t entirely satisfy, its visual interpretation almost completely does...Dickstein’s script is not especially creative in addressing this, but her startlingly adept at making two millennia worth of history up-to-the-moment trenchant. Maya Ciarrocchi’s video and projections - which feature a boomingly ghostly Teiresias (Juliana Francis-Kelly) and a number of filmic special effects - threaten to diminish the performers who for the most part blaze with life. The exception is Campion’s Creon, who’s so hysterically affected he seems more removed from the human race than he does from the impact of his self-serving laws.

Offoffonline B+
(Li Cornfeld) With its vivacious chorus, original score, live orchestra, Balinese dance, aerial choreography, and video projections, Fire Throws invokes layered, mythic grandeur in retelling Sophocles' Antigone. Yet, narrated by an older, wiser, introspective Antigone, the production is oddly reminiscent of the final scenes of Our Town. The production's intrapsychic interpretation of Antigone posits that Antigone's contemporary status as cultural icon is among the most dynamic aspects of the Sophocles play, yet Fire Throws never fully makes good on that supposition. Erica Berg leads the production with disciplined calm as “Antigone who is” or, as described by writer-director Rachel Dickstein, “the 2400 symbol she has become, looking back on her story and searching for the person inside the icon"...Happily, the story she narrates is a unique, graciously rendered depiction of the drama. Under Dickstein’s direction, the crossing of multiple disciplines creates a textured, cohesive whole that enhances the epic nature of the story.

That Sounds Cool B
(Aaron Riccio) Dickstein starts on the right foot: the haunting image of a girl in a long, flowing red dress, repeating slow, yogic movements...The play continues swift-footedly, too: whether it’s the influence of Baris Tunggal warrior movement or not, the image of blood-red silk slashing smoothly through the air is effective...The one element that isn’t working is the unaffecting videography. Maya Ciarrocchi’s work is fine, but it doesn’t compliment or enhance what’s already there...Dickstein must know this—after all, her writing, choreography, and directing speaks to the economy of theater. If presence is not the point, why bother introducing a second Antigone? If immediacy is overvalued, why bother to perform Jewlia Eisenberg’s music live? This isn’t saying that the shadows that the fire throws on the wall behind her aren’t a cool effect—it’s just a note that Fire Throws can be more than just an effect.

Time Out NY B
(Paul Menard) A visually stunning adaptation...Invoking the multidisciplinary ritualism of ancient Greek drama, Dickstein combines sculptural dance and live gamelan music with projected video to envelop 3LD’s monochromatic stage with ravishing imagery and sound. The video feels largely extraneous, but so what; with a few scraps of fabric, stark lighting and a rigorous ensemble, Dickstein clearly has all she needs to create visual poetry. Too bad the script isn’t nearly as lyrical as the movement. Dickstein’s swirling hybrid of traditional Balinese choreography and violent modern dance is far more poignant than her script, which lacks the intensity of Sophocles’ heightened verse. Moreover, the double-Antigone conceit never really pays off; instead of an insightful reworking of the ancient tragedy, we’re inadvertently given a pedestrian retelling of it. Thankfully it’s Dickstein’s physical text that comes through loudest.

New Yorker B
Rachel Dickstein’s high-tech adaptation of “Antigone” splits its heroine in two: while one Antigone (Laura Butler) enacts the well-worn events of the tragedy, another (Erica Berg) stands out of time, reflecting on the action and revealing a tinge of regret beneath her iron will. This device provides some psychological coloring, but at heart it’s still the same old story of autocracy and defiance locked in a shouting match. Dickstein’s truer innovation is in the visual language she creates, a striking blend of movement and video projection that conveys a fragmented yet distinctly ancient world. It’s an aesthetic that calls out for a more deconstructed “Antigone” than the grandiloquent text allows.

New York Times C-
(Claudia La Rocco) Ms. Dickstein attempts to humanize Antigone even as she deconstructs her. Such a structure has the potential to astound. (Just look at the poet Anne Carson’s brilliant explosion of one of Hercules’ labors in her ravishing book “Autobiography of Red.”) But if you’re going to give us the inner world of a figure like Antigone, you had better give us something more than this. Simple, almost decorative dance passages never seem essential to the play’s thrust, while Jewlia Eisenberg’s score, performed live by her ensemble, Charming Hostess, is more pleasing than powerful. And what would Sophocles have said about this dream nonsense?...Ms. Dickstein’s additions and insights are all so normal and expected. Set within the grand and severe territory of Sophocles’ original, the resulting amalgamation seems rather humdrum and ham-fisted.

Village Voice D
(Tom Sellar) Supersaturated with ideas and elements that are not meaningfully executed...Equally heavy of hand is Dickstein's disastrous choice to use double Antigones: "Antigone who was" (Laura Butler) watches "Antigone who is" (Erica Berg) as the character wanders aimlessly through her memories. Adding to the glut of misguided impulses are a clumsy video clip of the oracle Teiresias (Juliana Francis Kelly) and rushed Balinese-style dances breaking up an otherwise declamatory staging. Like too many pieces I've seen at 3LD, Fire Throws is over-teched at regrettable expense: Everything's conceptualized, but nothing gets thought out theatrically. Ultimately, the urgency and clarity of the tragedy's narrative disappear in a miasma of half-formed ideas.

Theatermania A- 12; Talkin' Broadway B+ 11; Offoffonline B+ 11; That Sounds Cool B 10; Time Out NY B 10; New Yorker B 10; NYT C- 6; Village Voice D 4; 74/8=9.25 (B-)

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