REVIEW: Too Much Memory (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

A Terrible Beauty Is Born

 

Antigone (Anna Carini, foreground) illegally burries her brother despite the opposition of her family and the people (standing, from left to right, Dominica Fisher as Chorus, Ebony Wimbs as Jones, Calliope Porter as Eurydice, Jeremy Fisher as Barnes, Brett Schneider as Haemon and Cyd Blakewell as Ismene), in SiNNERMAN Ensemble's Midwest premiere of “Too Much Memory,” Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's explosive contemporary adaptation of the Greek Antigone tragedy, directed by Anna C. Bahow, October 7-November 13, 2010. Photo by Kevin Viol.

   
 SiNNERMAN Ensemble presents
      
Too Much Memory
       
Written by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson
Directed by
Anna C. Bahow
at
The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
Through Nov. 13  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

The Greek legend that recounts Antigone’s defiance of the tyrant Creon resonates through the centuries. It seems painfully real today because there’s nothing black-and-white about this conflict between anarchy versus order, justice versus law, and religion versus the state. Sophocles’ tragedy makes us see both sides (and sometimes switch them as we watch). Antigone is driven to bury her disgraced brother, a rebel against Creon’s Corinth, so that he may reach the afterlife–so much so that she will accept, and even welcome, martyrdom. Creon cannot permit this rebel to become, even in death, a rallying point for rebellion.

Antigone (Anna Carini, bottom left) buries her brother in defiance of her uncle Creon's law and he attempts to maintain control (standing, from left to right: Calliope Porter as Eurydice, Jeremy Fisher as Barnes, Howie Johnson as Creon, Ebony Wimbs as Jones, Brett Schneider as Haemon, Dominica Fisher as Chorus and Cyd Blakewell as Ismene), in SiNNERMAN Ensemble's Midwest premiere of “Too Much Memory,” Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's explosive contemporary adaptation of the Greek Antigone tragedy, directed by Anna C. Bahow, October 7-November 13, 2010. Photo by Kevin Viol. Even though these implacable adversaries cannot compromise, the audience sees this as a complex conflict between powerful and often necessary forces—law and order against the constant fight for freedom. In Sinnerman Ensemble’s Midwest premiere of this updated version by topical playwrights Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson, the ancient struggle is colloquially new, with references to torture (Antigone is waterboarded), the media (the chorus, Domenica Fisher, is an on-site TV reporter who can only digest “news bites”), political trappings (Antigone and Creon attack each other on a closed-circuit feed), and Iraq and Afghanistan (the soldiers are confused about their mission or the morality of their superiors). But Antigone and Creon are united by one thing: Each declares, “I have no choice.” Each wants to belong to something greater than themselves, but ultimately they stand or fall on who they are and what they do.

Calling itself “an adaptation of an adaptation of a retranslation,” this new 80-minute version wants to both distance us from the original Athenian premiere (there’s even a strange exchange in French between the principal lovers) and to bring it home with a vengeance. In Anna Bahow’s well-tempered staging Howie Johnson plays Creon as a big-city boss with a very guilty conscience. Brett Schneider, as Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé Haemon, is helpless to mediate between his father and his lover. Likewise, as Antigone’s more practical (and surviving) sister Ismene, Cyd Blakewell haplessly agonizes from the sidelines.

Giving voice to a previously silent character, Calliope Porter as Creon’s much neglected wife registers her fury at being taken for granted until she’s forgotten altogether. Equally humanizing is the authors’ treatment of Jones (Ebony Wimbs), a soldier who finds more in common with Antigone than she ever expected.

 

Too Much Memory_03 Too Much Memory_06

Then there’s Anna Carini’s daredevil Antigone, a coiled and almost cool fanatic improbably bent on the ritual sacrifice of her own life to protect a dead brother. She defies logic as much as she does Creon and, as Yeats said about the Irish guerrillas who fought the English, “A terrible beauty is born.” Antigone is not that far in style or substance from the suicide bombers of religious terrorism. She’s part of our world in more ways than one: When she delivers her final loving farewell to Haemon (via the video camera of Jones’ cellphone), it’s strangely touching as well as technological.

That’s the point of an updating that, strangely enough, may in a few years seem more dated than Sophocles’ timeless telling. Keeping it real doesn’t always mean keeping it new. Still, right now it’s got the common touch and needs no translation. The irony, however, of Too Much Memory is that for many audience members the original story of how Oedipus’ daughter sought and met her doom may well be forgotten. Better to refresh your own memory before seeing this very 2010 retelling of a young extremist’s date with death.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Haemon's fights back when his father Creon condemns Haemon's fiance, Antigone, to death (from left to right, Ebony Wimbs as Jones, Brett Schneider as Haemon, Jeremy Fisher as Barnes, Howie Johnson as Creon and Calliope Porter as Eurydice), in SiNNERMAN Ensemble's Midwest premiere of “Too Much Memory,” Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's explosive contemporary adaptation of the Greek Antigone tragedy, directed by Anna C. Bahow, October 7-November 13, 2010. Photo by Kevin Viol.

 

Production Personnel

CAST: SiNNERMAN ensemble members Cyd Blakewell (Ismene), Anna Carini (Antigone), Dominica Fisher (Chorus), Jeremy Fisher (Barnes), Howie Johnson (Creon), Calliope Porter (Eurydice), and Ebony Wimbs (Jones), with guest artists Rob Fenton (Stuart), and Brett Schneider (Haemon).

STAFF: Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson (Playwrights), Anna C. Bahow (Director), Diane Fairchild (Lighting Design), Emily Duffin (Property Design), Kevin Viol (Photographer), Greg Poljacik (Violence Design), Abigail Akavia (Dramaturg),Bill Paton (Technical Director), Nick Ward (Project Manager), Taylor Fenderbosch (Stage Manager), with SiNNERMAN ensemble members Stefin Steberl (Costume and Set Design), and Levi Petree (Program).

Too Much Memory_07

BIOS:                         

Keith Reddin (co-Playwright) is a graduate of Northwestern University and the Yale Drama School. His plays include “Brutality of Fact,”, “Life and Limb,” “Big Time,” “Life During Wartime,” and “The Innocents’ Crusade.” “Maybe,” starring Vanessa Redgrave, which he adapted from a contemporary Russian play by Alexander Shatrov, had its world premiere at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England, in April 1993. Film credits include “All the Rage” with Joan Allen and Gary Sinise, the TV movie “The Heart of Justice,” and a film adaptation of “Big Time.”  Reddin has been awarded the Charles MacArthur Fellowship (1983), a NEA Playwriting Fellowship (1984), the San Diego Critics Circle Award for Best New Play (1989 and 1990), the Joseph Kesserling Award (1990), and a DramaLogue Award (1990).

Meg Gibson (co-Playwright) has worked extensively on stage in New York, regionally, as well as acting in film and television. She directed Terry Johnson’s Hysteria, Chuck Mee’s “Big Love” and Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt. Morgan” with Salt Lake Acting Company. Too Much Memory” won Outstanding Play and an outstanding directing award at the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival.  She graduated from The Juilliard Theatre Center and was a research fellow at The Yale School of Drama.

Anna C. Bahow (Director) is an Associate Artist at Chicago Dramatists, Premiere Theatre & Performance and the side project, where she directed the critically acclaimed premiere of “New Orleans,” named one of the top Fringe shows by the Chicago Tribune in 2006.  Other work includes “Vintage Red and the Dust of the Road” for Visions & Voices, nominated by the American Theatre Critics Association for the Steinberg Award for the "Best New Play Produced Outside of New York" and won a non-Equity Jeff Award for best new play; the Jeff- recommended premiere of “Martin Furey’s Shot” at TimeLine Theatre.  Bahow directed the world premiere of “Sweet Confinement: for SiNNERMAN, which garnered four After Dark Awards, including Best Direction.

     
        

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