Too Much Memory
nytheatre.com review by Pete Boisvert
August 11, 2008
An adaptation of an adaptation, Too Much Memory is a modern retelling of the tale of Antigone. Loosely based on Jean Anouilh's World War II-era take on the Greek myth, co-writers Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson firmly plant the conflict between Antigone and Creon in the present, with reflections on enemy combatants, suicide bombers, and the restriction of civil liberties in a time of war.
The action is confined to a large red square taped on the floor, with the actors, props, and set pieces laid out in full view of the audience throughout the evening. The staging is minimal, but highly effective. In one of the more inspired moments, a section of the debate between Creon and Antigone over the burial of her brother is reimagined as testimony at a governmental committee hearing.
Laura Heisler delivers an arresting performance as Antigone, achieving a delicate balance between stubborn pursuit of her moral code and familial obligations and a vulnerable sense of her own mortality and the consequences of her actions. The animalistic horror Heisler conveys when confronted with the prospect of being buried alive is an electric moment, conveying soul-crushing dread without resorting to melodrama.
The evening flows seamlessly from scene to scene, guided by Martin Moran's Chorus. Much praise is due to Moran, who effortlessly blends the contrasting styles of the piece, dropping meta references to the audience while holding the emotional and narrative reigns of the play with a firm grasp. His warm, approachable demeanor helps to establish the narrative backbone of the play.
Aria Alpert's Ismene attempts to serve as a counterbalance to Heisler's raw Antigone. Ismene can be a bit of a thankless role, the good daughter of the state set in contrast with the rebellious Antigone. Alpert has some tender moments with Heisler early on, but ultimately fails to deliver a deeper, more nuanced performance. In contrast, Louis Cancelmi comes alive late in the play as Haemon, lashing into his father. In addition to executing a wickedly precise bit of stage violence, Cancelmi displays a vivid rawness in his reaction to Antigone's fate.
In order to drive home the political message of the play, Reddin and Gibson treat Creon as a somewhat two-dimensional character. He's an autocratic, authoritarian tool of the system, who gains no deeper knowledge from his actions. As the Messenger and Chorus relay the carnage that finishes the play back to him in turns, his reaction is cold and distant. He moves on with disaffection to fulfill his bureaucratic function, searching to lose himself in the responsibility of his station. Peter Jay Fernandez brings grace and power to the role, but ultimately the authors have limited their interpretation of Creon to cast him as a straw villain.
On balance, Reddin and Gibson's adaptation is an effective and engaging political thriller. The acting is of truly high caliber, especially the performances by Heisler, Moran, Cancelmi, and Ray Anthony Thomas as the soldier Jones. Gibson directs the play with energy and zeal. Although the play dances right up to the line of political polemic, it avoids triteness through it's emotionally honest portrayal of the characters' humanity. In his opening monologue Moran's Chorus describes an obligation to speak up in an oppressive political environment. Too Much Memory speaks loudly, and knows exactly what it wants to say.