Too Much Memory
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 7, 2008
Too Much Memory is a new play by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson; Gibson is also the director of this production, presented by Rising Phoenix Repertory and Piece by Piece Productions. The text of this play comes from many sources, including Richard Nixon, Tom Hayden, Susan Sontag, and Hannah Arendt. Practically the first lines of the play tell us "what you're about to see is an adaptation of an adaptation of a re-translation. We don't know exactly what you call that." What's being adapted is the Antigone of Sophocles, by way of Jean Anouilh's 1944 version, which shifted the story's moral center away from Duty and towards Freedom.
Too Much Memory, as its title portends, is very much about collective history, and what it means as we try to reshape and refocus it. Reddin and Gibson understand that theatre is one place where we can still gather to enact and ponder rituals together (church is another), and indeed the political and social significance of such theatrical communing is one of the main themes of the piece, conveyed to us by a Chorus (played with breathtaking simplicity by Martin Moran) who leads us into the drama and comments on it frequently, possibly anticipating what we are thinking, possibly bringing up a new idea—the way one would hope the most trusting of teachers would treat their most curious students.
The plot proceeds as you expect: Antigone defies her uncle Creon, who is also her King, by burying one of her brothers against his express orders. Antigone is in love with Creon's son Haemon, and this especially makes it difficult for Creon to punish Antigone in accordance with his own law. But despite his efforts to get her to back down, she is unwilling or unable to do so, and eventually he sentences her to death. This act breaks Creon's family apart decisively.
In the middle of the play, a scene shows Antigone and Creon side by side in front of microphones, as if at a modern-day press conference. Reddin and Gibson use anachronistic juxtaposition freely to remind us that Antigone's principled stand against tyranny is part of an eternal struggle. But this notion is cross-cut by other ideas in and around the production: the actions of the current administration and the promise of the next one surely inform everything in Too Much Memory, for example; and the characterizations of the two principals are as much at odds with one another as their political positions are, with Laura Heisler's Antigone joltingly contemporary and Peter Jay Fernandez's Creon stolid and timeless.
Interestingly, neither Creon nor Antigone is ultimately the most memorable character here. Jones, a soldier in Creon's army—the one who first reports Antigone's offense and later serves as her guard—is the man we are most able to identify with. He, after all, isn't setting political policy or leading the charge against injustice; he's just getting by day to day and doing his job as best he can. Ray Anthony Thomas makes Jones a very sympathetic everyman, caught within the ethical and moral dilemmas of the play and letting his guts (his heart as well as his stomach) guide him moment by moment to a wise course of action.
Other supporting actors in the ensemble make strong impressions, notably Wendy Vanden Heuvel as Creon's poised and mostly silent wife Eurydice and Seth Numrich as Haemon. The striking set is by Ola Maslik.
A few of the specific choices that Gibson has made as director confused me, such as having some of the characters draw chalk outlines on the floor at various points in the play, or the presence onstage of a TV monitor that is only really used once (the spare but arresting video design is by Joseph Tekippe). But the impetus for putting this new take on Antigone before audiences in 2008 always feels clear and potent, and the production thrives on its pertinence and its admirable conciseness.