Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Satisfying riffs on ancient texts

From Creative Loafing: Satisfying riffs on ancient texts
When you attend the new Stephen Seay Productions presentation of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Petra's Piano Bar, you not only get a program as you enter, you get a biblical family tree that takes you from "the beginning" all the way to the Book of Exodus and a few chapters beyond. That genealogy is good to have, because when the three madcap actors start spraying the audience with water, you can use it to defend yourself without getting your playbill wet.

Leslie Ann Giles, Caleb Sigmon, and Christopher Jones are our loony guides as we fast-forward in the patented Reduced Shakespeare style through the two testaments. Leslie leans on a book by Isaac Asimov for insights on Holy Writ while Caleb takes the Bible more literally. Or to put it another way, Caleb is using a Bible that he proudly claims to have stolen. Christopher manages to distinguish himself as the simpleton in this trio, sporting an illustrated children's book for his biblical intro.

It continues that way as these dubious scholars fracture scripture, divvying up the pillars of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Leslie usually presides and plays straight (relatively speaking), Caleb takes us weird and wild, and Christopher serves as the go-to buffoon and bimbo. Ryan Stamey is the silent partner of all the action onstage, settling in behind an electric keyboard and contributing his own original songs to the gumbo. Just that should clue you into the extent that Seay as director permits his cast to deviate from the original Reduced script by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor.

So my dread of seeing Complete Word yet again quickly evaporated — very much like the spraying applied to the audience. Another good time — 106 minutes, to be precise — at Petra's.

The last time I saw Matt Cosper's World Without End was nearly nine years ago — when Children's Theatre was still on Morehead Street, Cosper's current company was The Farm Theatre, and Dubya was barely halfway through his first term. So I'd forgotten that the script was an adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone and a frontal assault on Bush 43 and homeland security hysteria. With a little left over for Bill Clinton.

Or was it? In the new Chaos Ensemble production, designed and directed by James Yost, the Bush/Clinton tyrant is Kenny, based on Sophocles' Creon, a character who never appeared in Cosper's 2003 draft! Now the modernization follows Sophocles far more closely and clocks in 26 minutes longer.

So the truth is that these young Providence High School students are presenting a totally reconceived work by Cosper — and it's one honey of a piece, sporting a metallic soundtrack played live by guitarist Brian Froeb and Jon Michael Askew. The satiric thrust definitely comes from Andre Egas's alternately boorish and ingratiating portrayal of Kenny, while Reem Saed endows Annie (Antigone) with more than sufficient fire. Really, everything needn't be bellowed.

In its compression, still only 86 minutes, the script isn't always clear about which character is speaking — Eurydice ought to be more surely identified as Creon's queen and Haimon's mother — but the relevance of the ancient tragedy is striking as ethical debates sprout up and main characters begin falling like dominoes. Though they appear in modern dress, all the faces are partially or totally painted, adding a primal overlay that often flips over into harlequinade.

Brandishing a saxophone, Mack White brings a punkish edge to Haimon, the fulcrum of the drama as Creon's resentful son and Antigone's fiancé. You'll also like the nerdiness Halley Freger brings to Creon's Clown and the sass Olivia Dalzell brings to her dual roles as Eurydice and chorus leader. And for those of you who actually know Sophocles' tragedy, you'll find that Cosper adds a surprising and satisfying coda.

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