“What you’re about to see is an adaptation of an adaptation of a translation,” says a character at the beginning of Rising Phoenix Rep’s terrific new Fringe play Too Much Memory, although arguably he could go still further and call it an adaptation of a translation of an adaptation of a translation: the script, by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson, who also directs, is based on French playwright Jean Anouih’s Antigone, itself an adaptation of the Sophocles classic. Reddin and Gibson have condensed the epic drama into a taught hour and ten minutes, incorporating texts from an array of literary and political sources (Richard Nixon, Tom Hayden, Peter Brook, Anne Carson, Pablo Neruda, Susan Sontag, and Hannah Arendt). Yet the production is not a collage; they’ve sewn the diverse source material into a tightly packed, seamlessly cohesive plot.
Though the play is set in the present, the one-man chorus (professorial Martin Moran) notes that differences exist between “the present” and “contemporary.” The production’s tendency to dig at such compellingly perplexing ideas without dwelling on them for more than half a second is among its strongest assets, and perhaps relates to its perpetual present tense (to say nothing if its contemporary sensibility).
The focused cast lends vulnerability and compassion to each of the tragedy’s furious players, but the real show-down occurs in the scenes that pit Antigone (Laura Heisler) and against Creon (Peter Jay Fernandez). She’s a young, passionate rebel, he’s a distinguished, passionate statesman; both have the courage of their convictions in extraordinary doses. Their scenes are at once intelligent and breathless.
Given that the greatest differences between the two opposed characters are their worldviews and generations, it's interesting that Rising Pheonix chose to present Too Much Memory during a summer in which mainstream media is marveling at youth activism as though it's just discovered it. How far inside or outside a political system must young people go in order to have their passions acknowledged? Antigone’s temperate sister Ismene (Aria Alpert) becomes, in this production, a sort of storyteller in its sole, pointed use of mixed media.
At the outset of the production, the Chorus comments that, budgetary restraints not withstanding, contemporary directors have a host of media available to them in their depictions of classics. “We have that freedom, but” he says, “I think we also have an obligation. To speak up.” Too Much Memory uses a multitude of sources speak up in a voice all its own: adaptation at its richest.
Too Much Memory is part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival.