New + old classics

Life on the boards
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 10, 2008

the Gamm’s Don Carlos.

As if freshly presenting stage classics isn’t challenging enough, spanking new adaptations are in the lineups this fall at two companies, Trinity Repertory Company and the Gamm.

Trinity’s artistic director Curt Columbus is opening the season with the world premiere of THE DREAMS OF ANTIGONE (September 19-October 26), directed by Brian McEleney.

Columbus has described his play as “Orwell’s 1984 meets Brazil at Gosford Park.” Such inventiveness was likely, considering how intensely the company handled a table reading of Sophocles’s Antigone at the beginning of the development process this summer.

“There was no moaning chorus of fakey-fake acting,” the director recalls. “There was a real attack on the thing, and it just hit us like a sledgehammer. Everyone in the room at the end of it was weeping. We thought: ‘Oh my God, look what power a 2500 year-old drama has!’ ”

The ancient story was treated in tragedies by both Euripides and Sophocles. The core conflict in the latter’s account deals with King Creon decreeing that there be no funeral for Antigone’s brother Polyneices, because he fought against Creon for usurping their father’s throne. More loyal to her family than to the state, Antigone buries him, and Creon is troubled by having to punish her.

The adaptation’s original title was Antigone Anew, but now there are a lot of dream sequences, with reality and fantasy conflating.

“Originally, I just was going to write a new adaptation of Antigone,” Columbus says. “Then what’s arisen is that Brian, as he states over and over again, has little or no interest in naturalism, and has little or no tolerance for the container of the play being just the play itself, but that the event needs to be something bigger.

“We are not looking to do an historical reenactment,” he adds. “We are looking to find out what the resonance and the significance is today. Plus — really important — nobody looks good in a toga!”

With plenty of input from the 15 company members who were available for the production, the play developed not from any previous text but rather from the central conflict itself, which certainly resonates today.

As Columbus puts it: “Antigone says to us: What happens if you wake up one day and go, ‘No. No, no more. No more! Today I’m going to act. Today I’m going to do something, [although] all of the forces of the society and all of the halls of power echo with no.’ ”

Here are some highlights among other productions to look forward to this fall.

A new adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s DON CARLOS, by Gamm artistic director Tony Estrella, is on the boards at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre (through October 5). The 1787 work is based on events that occurred during the Spanish Inquisition and comes across as a political thriller in this version, as well as an argument against tyranny and an old-fashioned romance of young lovers.

William Gibson’s inspirational classic THE MIRACLE WORKER will be staged by 2nd Story Theatre (November 20-December 14). It’s the story of Helen Keller, blind and deaf from 19 months old, and her nearly blind teacher, Annie Sullivan, who tamed the furious youngster, teaching her how to communicate with the world outside her mind.

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