Saturday, October 25, 2008

Greetings from the Other Side of the World

Autumn in New England is beautiful; autumn in Sri Lanka is pretty neat, too, though for brilliant foliage you're better off in Vermont. I'll be back next week, in time to admire the artistry of some of the greatest distance runners in the world competing in the New York City Marathon, and in time, of course, to vote for eloquence, sincerity, prudence, and--what's that word? oh, right--change.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bug at the Black Rep

This weekend is your last opportunity to see Tracy Letts’s Bug at the Black Rep. Of the seasoning-opening plays I’ve seen this fall, Bug is the most auspicious, because it is the bloodiest, the most profane, the funniest, and the most unsettling; topping it will be a great challenge for the theater. Bug is about what happens to us when the stories we tell ourselves about out lives stop making sense: its main characters, having each come to the end of an unknotted narrative thread, begin weaving something new from whatever strands they can grasp. If this sounds theoretical and arcane, it isn’t; for Letts, reinvention is a kind of violence. The show ends with a literal bang that feels more like a figurative whimper, but it otherwise communicates a sense of displaced emergency and furtive, misspent energy with millennial zeal.

In a motel room in small-town Oklahoma, R.C. introduces her friend Agnes to Peter, a nervous, recessive intellectual. Agnes has just received word that her abusive husband Jerry has been released from prison, so when she grudgingly falls for Peter it is with the implicit and feeble hope that he can provide some protection for her. But Peter is no better for Agnes than Jerry was; his volatility—he is a paranoid Gulf War veteran who believes that aphids have been planted under his skin by Army doctors—is simply more insidious. The play is about narcotics and has the feel of a worsening trip. Forget Rodgers and Hammerstein; this is Oklahoma, OD’ed.

The performances are all terrific, especially from the male leads. Raidge plays Jerry Goss with almost painful perfection; he is a combination of horrible menace and childlike charm. And Cedric Lilly somehow make’s Peter’s concavity not a vacuum but a physical presence. It must be difficult to act out looking in, but Lilly makes us believe that something is happening there. Jackie Davis, as Agnes, is smart and sympathetic, but her southern/western accent, while not distracting in itself, is sometimes so disaffected that it becomes robotic and unemotional. Agnes spends much of the play not talking, however, and Davis, stooped and scared, carries it on her quiet shoulders.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Relevance of Antigone

Bill Rodriguez, in the Providence Phoenix, begins his panegyric to Antigone with this indefensible and contradictory paragraph:
The problem with Greek tragedies is that they tend to be Greek to us. Losing too much in translation isn't a problem with the intelligent and relevant The Dreams of Antigone, now in its world premiere at Trinity Repertory Company (through October 26).
I have nothing against presumption--indeed, criticism is considered presumption--but I resent being implicated, as a fellow theater-goer and as a reader, in Rodriguez's vapid generality. I don't know that this is "the problem" with Greek tragedy. I didn't know Greek tragedy had a problem in the first place. And actually, I'm not sure now that I know what he means. Does he mean that many of us don't speak ancient Greek? Or that clumsy translation confuses us (which would mean, paradoxically, that translated Greek is Greek to us)? Or that we don't know much about the ancient Greeks themselves, so we fail to detect the dynamic range and the music in their tragedies? I don't get it. Perhaps the problem with Greek tragedy is that we assume it has a problem: we're all doctors prescribing pills and recommending surgery to an aged but perfectly healthy patient. Being old is not a disorder, we know, and youth is not synonymous with vitality; last season's Blithe Spirit was written during World War II, and in English, but it felt brittle and barbed, like broken bone. Maybe if critics and artistic directors stopped insisting that the old is also the onerous, the rest of us would stop believing it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Antigone

A phone message from a friend:
I saw the show [The Dreams of Antigone, at Trinity Rep] this afternoon, and I don’t think I share your opinion of it…I think that I agree with you if I go at it from the perspective of, “This is Antigone,” but I think that I like it better if I say, “This is not Antigone, this is just a different show with a variation on the same theme.” I walked into the show wanting to be bitter...about it, and when I left I actually felt like it was a really great show, and that kind of says a lot.
My friend is far from alone in this opinion; I'm in a position to hear some of the near-unanimous praise that The Dreams of Antigone is receiving from its audience, who seem to leave the theater at once exhilarated and troubled. The reviews have been quite good, too. Channing Gray, in the ProJo, called it "both old and fresh," and thought that the set was, actually, one of the nicest things about the evening. The BoGlo's Louise Kennedy noted that, though the writing doesn't have Sophocles's economy, the show's ideas are seriously considered and well developed. Chris Verleger, writing for EDGE Providence, summarizes the show briskly and recognizes the accomplishments of all the actors--especially, and deservedly, Rachel Warren as Antigone, Stephen Thorne as her husband, Haemon, and Fred Sullivan, Jr., as Creon.

The conversation, started at Trinity, continues outside of it. I'm still thinking about the show and hoping, if they'll let me, to see it again this week.