Please note: this is a THEATRE review written by a self-confessed television addict. This self-confessed television addict tends to see everything in a high-def sort of way. This self-confessed television addict will also readily admit to being somewhat confused and more than a little frustrated when she cannot hit "pause", "mute" or "rewind" during real life. That said, here goes!
So. Lucky me, I was chosen by the gorgeous Minneapolis theater, The Guthrie, to take part in their Blogger Night At The Theater program. I'm still a bit bewildered over the fact that they chose me, of all people. I feel kind of like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, if you know what I mean. I'm saying I'm not the first person who pops into mind when you say "theater-goer". But whatever...I was, and am, beyond thrilled to be able to participate in this bold new venture.
The first performance I saw was "The Burial at Thebes", a succinct but rich adaptation of Sophocle's renowned tragedy, "Antigone". If you're not familiar with the story of Antigone, here's a windy synopsis:
Antigone, daughter of Oedipus. If you can remember back to the days of required reading, Oedipus is the fellow who killed his father and then married his mother. Remember when I mentioned that Antigone's life makes mine look like an episode of Friends? Well, it does. So, Antigone, begotten from a dysfunctional childhood, grows up to be...wait for it...a slightly dysfunctional woman. She's engaged to be married to Haemon, the son of Thebe's king, Creon (are you still with me?). Creon also happens to be Antigone's uncle via her mother.
Antigone had two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles. Both brothers were supposed to end up as sort of joint rulers of Thebes, but both end up dead in a conflict. One died with honors (Eteocles) and is given a full, proper and customary burial. The other one? Not so much. Polynices, you see, was on the side that was trying to take Thebes down, and when he turned up dead, Creon decided to give him a burial fitting for someone who has committed treason: which is no burial at all. Polynices was to be left uncovered, his corpse given to the birds and animals and left to rot out in the open, for all to see. And this is where "The Burial at Thebes" begins.
Antigone is what we would call "a tough cookie". She's horrified at the thought of her brother being disgraced in this way, and decides to go against Creon's orders (he said if anyone was caught trying to bury Polynices, they'd be killed) and give her brother a proper burial. She sneaks out, covers the body and is caught by a guard. Brought before Creon, she fights her fight like a good sister should, but in the end is condemned to be sealed into a cave. Creon is given many opportunities to change his mind but holds fast to his decision, even though you can practically see the doubt creeping into his head.
This is a tragedy, so of course it ends tragically. Antigone kills herself in the cave, Haemon finds her and kills himself, Creon's wife kills herself after hearing of Haemon's death. It's rife with tragedy, people.
But...that doesn't make this a downer of a production. Quite the opposite.
Writer/poet/Nobel Prize recipient Seamus Heaney has infused this ancient tale with a twist of irony, a dash of humor and a bit of his own Irish pathos.
Let me start with the set: absolutely gorgeous. A stark stage dressed as stone catacomb/tombs is all we see throughout the entire play, and believe me...it works. My guest for the evening, the lovely Uncle Lorie remarked, "It feels like we're inside a furnace" and she wasn't talking about the temperature. Kudos to the Guthrie for a fabulous job on setting the stage.
After the set, the next thing that strikes you is the color-blind casting. It's a veritable rainbow onstage, and I believe that makes for a richer experience.
Oh, I wanted to make sure and mention the completely kick ass music. The score was written by our very own JD Steele, of the iconic Minneapolis musical Steele family. Several of the songs had a downright gospel feel, especially when coming from the impressive pipes of Robert Robinson who has been cast as part of the wonderful Greek chorus. This dude has a massive presence, both literally and auditory-wise. His voice, combined with JD Steele's hypnotic musical pieces, gives this production its soul. Amen, Robert!
As for the performers: Antigone is played by Sun Mee Choment, and she does a fine job filling the big shoes she's been given. Creon is played by Stephen Yoakam, and although I did lean over and whisper into Uncle Lorie's ear "Holy crap...he sounds just like J.Peterman on Seinfeld" he quickly won me over and took the award for my favorite performance. His acting is such that you almost immediately forget that he's acting: when he's speaking, you are listening not to someone being all actory and theatrical, but you're eavesdropping on Creon himself. Great job, Stephen.
The chorus consists of four men, and provides the much-needed comic relief. The standout performer in the chorus is Richard Ooms. I can't find out his exact age, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say he's around 70. But don't let this fill your head with visions of a doddering, slow old man. No...Ooms steals the spotlight from the other members of the chorus with a wit and charisma that made me want to invite him over to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Seriously..I want him to read "The Night Before Christmas" to my kids and help me make sugar cookies. Well done, Richard.
Several other wonderful performers contributed to the goodness, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the nicely ripped Ernest Bentley who plays Haemon. Thank you for that, Ernest.
Now, of course there is a lot that can be read into this performance. There are people who say that this is a retelling of George Bush and 9/11, or that it can be seen as an interpretation of anything from citizenship to state control to civil disobedience. Maybe it can. But if you know me at all, you know I'm not that deep. If I had more than a couple of hours to chew on it, mayhap I too would come up with some super profound comparisons. But to be honest, it was all I could do to not worry about what disaster my kids were creating at home while I was gone (bless their little hearts, all I came home to was some sort of explosion in the microwave and the fact that they discovered, and ate, my Halloween candy stash). Moral of the story: read into it what you will, but if you're like me and set that bar pretty much flush with the ground, you'll be just fine.
All in all, I would highly recommend "The Burial at Thebes" to anyone. Look at me, I consider Tosh.0 one of the highlights of the week and I was completely enthralled by this presentation. I felt smarter after leaving the theater. Of course, when I found the parking ticket on my truck (for taking two spaces, naturally. Because this here Country Mouse finds city parking pretty dang confusing) I felt somewhat less smart, but nevertheless...this was one dose of culture I'd be happy to take in again. Oh yes, just remembered: there is no intermission, so make sure you stop for a ladies room break beforehand. Just saying. All of those who have given birth, you understand, right?
I'd like to once again express my profuse thanks to the Guthrie for providing me with this awesome experience. You have no idea how nice it was for me to be able to take a break from my less-than-relaxing real life, sit down in your lush velvet seats and be entertained for a blissful 90 minutes. THANK YOU!!!!