Cry me a river

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  October 1, 2008

But you can’t say Brian McEleney’s staging, on Tristan Jeffers’s rubble-strewn cross between a rehearsal hall and the Parthenon, isn’t compelling. The excellent actors are fully committed, with Fred Sullivan Jr.’s Creon a calculating yet human pol with his iron hands full and Rachael Warren an imperfect Antigone whose martyrdom seems more compulsive than planned. Stephen Berenson and Joe Wilson Jr. are Creon’s advisers, a Cheney-like prime minister and a wary general, who shift their counsel as they sniff the public mood. Angela Brazil’s Cassandra-like Ismene burns with a feral intensity, and Stephen Thorne gives a tender yet volatile performance as Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé. Janice Duclos, Barbara Meek, and Anne Scurria add comic relief as well as a human face as a trio of palace staff debating what roles they might play in the royal standoff and its trickle-down through history. It’s obvious that one of Columbus’s aims is to widen the consideration of activism from one individual to the community at large. But Greek tragedy isn’t about the Chorus.

Brave young women also face grim odds in In the Continuum, which is receiving its Boston premiere courtesy of the Boston Center for the Arts’ newest resident troupe, Up You Mighty Race (at the BCA Plaza through October 18). It’s an emotionally powerful and politically useful piece that began life as two MFA theses melded by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, students in NYU’s graduate acting program, and presented Off Broadway in 2005. The connecting tissue is HIV/AIDS, which has transmogrified from its beginnings as a gay-male plague into a significant threat to heterosexual African and African-American women (and men). Gurira, who is of Zimbabwean descent, had carved a monologue about a married middle-class newscaster who finds herself infected and pregnant; Salter’s subject was a sassy LA teen in the same fix. Throwing their works into a continuum, as it were, they came up with a sparky theater piece that is universal as well as specific. And under the direction of Akiba Abaka, producing artistic director of Up You Mighty Race, two Brandeis-minted acting MFAs, Lindsey McWhorter and Ramona Lisa Alexander, inhabit it as if it were their theses. If the performances are sometimes too cacophonous for the intimate space, they are nonetheless irresistible.

McWhorter, resorting to a rhythmic African cadence, plays Abigail, a spunky anchor for Zimbabwean-government-operated TV with a young son, a womanizing husband she hopes will be brought to heel by her new pregnancy, and dreams of working for CNN. Alexander, deploying buckets o’ attitude, embodies Nia, a 19-year-old from the ’hood recently fired from Nordstrom’s for availing herself of the five-finger discount. The two also play others in their respective stories, from an overwhelmed and unsympathetic African physician to an overwhelmed and rejecting Los Angeles mom. In the original production, the performers occupied opposite sides of the stage; here they move around the playing space and into the audience, at times seeming to recognize each other — though the intrusions into the audience can be disconcerting, especially when Nia uses a spectator’s lap as a toilet into which to simulate barfing.

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