Antigone. It's a story we've heard and seen many, many a time. And yet, here it is again, in a new retelling by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson called Too Much Memory . The text is a collage of the Sophoclean play, the Anouilh adaptation and texts from figures as various as Peter Brook, Susan Sontag, and Richard Nixon. And despite the fact that it is, as the lone chorus member says, an “adaptation of an adaptation of a re-translation,” the original story shines through loud and clear, its message the same as all those years ago and yet still relevant for the present day. A square playing space is outlined on the stage using tape and later traced using chalk. A video screen stretches along the back wall. The actors assemble around the perimeter of the square, talking, playing card games, and reading the newspaper. When it is their cue to go onstage, they take the time to trace the outline of the square and enter from a specific spot, as if going through a door, as if the audience is not meant to see them on the stage's edges.
Yet, we see them. The play is set in the present day. The chorus member makes a point to distinguish the “present” from the “contemporary.” Characters reference pop culture and their cell phones, and yet the play transcends all that. It is not about transforming the story into a mirror image of our life—it is about presenting the truth: no matter what, it is important to do what is right rather than what is lawful. And also, the truth that justice is not always served, and one does not necessarily learn from past mistakes.
Laura Heisler is amazing as Antigone. The actress conveys a strength in the face of her character's actions and yet a vulnerability at the same time. When she hears her fate—that she will be placed in a hole and buried alive—she completely breaks down. Her sobs, the kind that border on hyperventilation, produce a visceral reaction in the viewer. Peter Jay Fernandez, who plays Creon, is very much the politician whom initially you want to like, in whom you want to see the good, but who ultimately gives you no choice but to despise him for his callousness and inability to care.
The play is helped by its lighting design and its barely noticable use of video. There are other subtle elements in the design as well. Antigone wears a bright orange scarf, which is later used to bind her wrists, and which she even later uses to hang herself. Eurydice, Creon's silent wife, sits in the back right corner, taking in the events, smiling for the cameras, and seeming to be an empty shell of a person. The chorus member starts the play by lifting a copy of the New York Times in the air, relating the events of the story back to events in the present.
Everyone should see Too Much Memory . The play successfully returns a sense of urgency to the theater. In an age of being bashed over the head with so-called facts, facts that often overlook the truth of the matter, facts that are given a spin to benefit who is speaking them, it is important that theater such as this be seen and discussed by as many people as possible.