HIT AND MYTH
In Sophocles’ Antigone, the titular character has returned to Thebes to warn her brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, about a prophecy that predicts they will kill each other in a battle for the throne of Thebes. But she’s too late. Both brothers are dead. Antigone’s uncle Creon, who inherited the throne, gave Eteocles a proper burial, but banned the burial of Polyneices, who he believes was a traitor. Antigone defies the law, buries her brother, and is caught. She kills herself after being locked away in prison by Creon, an act which he sadly regrets.
While politics isn’t the play’s focus, Antigone’s civil disobedience and sense of betrayal certainly is. The context of Antigonón by Cuba’s Teatro El Público is equally rooted in rebellion, but Rogelio Orizondo’s metaphorical monologues eschew storyline for a parade of absurdist castoffs from the revolution.
This show concentrates on and venerates the heroes of the Cuban Independence Movement (the late-nineteenth-century nationalist uprising against Spanish rule) and those affected by the revolution up through modern times. Two heroes referenced here have been given mythological status by modern day Cubans: poet José Martí (1853-1895), and soldier/statesman Major General Antonio Maceo Grajales (1845-1896), whose body, like Polyneices, was buried in secret.
And just what this evening adds up to is equally a buried secret. The 80 minutes of textbook performance art, including, yes, quality nudity with trimmed pubes, superficially held my attention, but it seems that in no way is this piece designed for anyone but Cubans—meaning, unless you’re Cuban, references will fly over your head like whizzing bullets (although I’m rather certain that in one very entertaining monologue “flower” refers to “clit”). Artistic Director Carlos Díaz has an eye for the theatrical, but he oversees this like it was an art installation; the monologue to monologue quick-change blocking and harsh tone gets relentless, and the staging can be static—although there are splashes of terrific humor, and I truly enjoyed some of the best acting in town.
I’m grateful that I speak enough Spanish not to be completely alienated, but the script’s symbolism can feel dense in any language (“Once the monkey’s dead, there are no more tomatoes”). Even Antigonón‘s subtitle, un contingente épico, is tough to decipher. What is meant by “An Epic Contingent”? Does this mean that this is just a really really big Antigone? And bopping between the fast-moving, occasionally wonky, English supertitles above the stage and the delightfully distracting danglings below grows wearisome. And sadly on opening night at REDCAT, a computer malfunction before the show meant that we had to sit and watch over 20 minutes of austere video footage; footage meant to be played as we entered the SRO theater (the next two performances are also sold out).
For all its lack of cohesion, Antigonón gets a delicious avant-garde treatment with Celia Ledón and Robertiko Ramos’s ridiculously imaginative costumes; Xenia Cruz and Sandra Remy’s slinky, sensual movement; Marcél Beltrán’s archival black-and-white film clips from the Stalin years; and five hot actors who bare soul and skin (Giselda Calero, Daysi Forcade, Luis Manuel Álvarez, Roberto Espinosa, and Linnet Hernández).
previous production photos by Lessy Montes de Oca
Antigonón, un contingente épico
Teatro El Público
(Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater)
631 West 2nd St (under Disney Hall)
ends on March 17, 2016
for tickets, call 213-972-8001 or visit REDCAT