"The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez"

by Nancy Worssam

This moving production by Thriving Artists, a less-than-a-year-old Latino company makes me want to see more of their work. Spotlighting Seattle's Latino talent in all aspects of theatre production, "The Passion As Told By Antigona Perez" has much to commend it.

Antigona Perez is a stand-in for Antigone, the heroine of the Sophocles play named for her. She was the sister who refused to let her slain brother be consumed by carrion eaters as he lay unburied and unsanctified where he fell in battle. Creon, the new king, had decreed that most heinous punishment as a warning for all others against insurrection. For daring to disobey Creon's order s by burying her brother, Creon sentenced Antigona to be buried alive ina cave. 

"The Passion As Told By Antigona Perez" opens on a sparse stage where Antigona stands in solitude speaking for those who grow up where true freedom and equality don't exist. She has indeed disobeyed her nation's dictator, and he has decreed that she will pay dearly for her insubordination. She represents justice; he represents repression, mouthing platitudes, secure in his power, supported as he is by armies and henchment.

Throughout the play, the action is interrupted by on-line media coverage. A large screen above the stage projects the faces of multiple reporters, presenting the news, rather the official 'news'. The reportage of this 'Greek Chorus' causes one to reflect on the ability of all media, new and old, to manipulate truth.

Exchanges between the dictator and Monsignor, the head of the church, make clear the collusion between state and church. Meanwhile, scenes in the boudoir of the First Lady of the Republic speak to the enormous wealth of the few in a society where the many are so less privileged. Much is implied by the wonderful contrast between this elegant, beautifully clad woman, and the dirt smeared, ragged looking Antigona.

Social commentary is front and center in this earnest play by Puerto Rican playwright Luis Rafael Sanchez, translated by Arlene Martinez-Vazquez who also directed this production. Fortunately, it avoids being a harangue. The acting is powerful. The lighting creatively defines spaces and highlights mood. I had some trouble hearing everything said by Javonna Arriaga, who plays Antigona with both power and subtlety, and that was a real loss.

It's an ambitious production well realized, a remarkably good first effort. 

A Child's Christmas in Wales  Adam                                                                                                                        Friday, December 16, 2011

The first time I heard Dylan Thomas’s classic poem, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” it was just after a typically enormous Thanksgiving meal and we were all cuddled up around a woodstove in a New Hampshire farmhouse listening to the sonorous, Welsh-accented voice of Mr. Thomas himself purring on about snow for six days and six nights when he was twelve, or twelve days and twelve nights when he was six. His frenetic, disjointed style captured each of his fleeting memories of cold mailmen and burning houses and happy uncles in Wales in a mushed-up, run-together way that recalled exactly every warm winter mood in Wyoming, and brought us together, this poet and I, across oceans and years.

“All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.”

Unfortunately, the very quality that makes Thomas’s poem so universal is what makes the feelings it invokes so difficult to convey in a medium as realistic and inflexible as live theater. But fortunately for us, the Stone Soup Theatre troupe, under the excellent direction of Arlene Martinez-Vickers and including the charming performance of Sophia Mitri-Schloss playing a young Mr. Thomas, has found a way to roll the poem’s glowing sensibility into a warm-hearted, delightfully-staged single act that makes Thomas’s Christmas as real as our own.

When a few tone-setting carols fade out and Christmas day begins in earnest onstage, the theater’s talent quickly makes itself apparent. Lonnie Tristan Renteria shines as Glyn, an uncle with Communist leanings in industrial South Wales, and action is occasionally punctuated by recitations of parts of the original poem by Tom Stewart, who reads it nearly as well as the veritable author himself.

But from the very first, it is the children, and Miss Mitri-Schloss in particular, who steal the show. It is worth attending if for nothing else than to witness her telling of a Welsh ghost story that openly terrifies Uncle Glyn in the show, but must have secretly terrified every single member of the audience. But Mrs. Martinez-Vickers has drawn equally strong performances out of Guthrie Sutton, Halina Scott-Smith, Daphne Matter, and Stewart Kuehne, and the young stars, out of exuberance alone, make Thomas’s words glow with the spirit of Christmas.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales can be seen at the Stone Soup Theatre at 4029 Stone Way, on the corner of 41st.  The show runs at 7:30 pm on 12/21, 12/22, and every Friday and Saturday evening through the 24th.  There are also matinees at 2 pm 12/17, 12/18, and from 12/21-24.  Tickets can be purchased here, or by phoning the box office at (206) 633-1883.

Lysistrata and The Bacchae

By Aristophanes and Euripides
Théâtre Libre in association with Giant Olive Theatre Company
Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Review by Kevin Quarmby (2009)

For centuries, the Greek classics have been mined by playwrights for their plots and situations, their extraordinary characters and their distantly archaic though strangely topical narratives. Théâtre Libre in association with Giant Olive Theatre Company have elected to take two of these Greek plays, a comedy by Aristophanes and a tragedy by Euripides, and present them for the twenty-first century.

Produced as two independent productions with decidedly different stylistic approaches, Lysistrata & The Bacchae provide an interesting flavour of the ribald humour and hubristic horror of Greek drama. The first play, Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, takes its misogynistic tale of Athenian women staging a sex-strike in order to force their menfolk into peace talks after years of warfare, translating it into a street battle between break-dancing ladettes and their hoodie husbands.

Influenced by Capoeira and underscored by the steady throb of DJ Halo’s vinyl scratching, Lysistrata is transformed into a physical confrontation between youthful libido and feminine wile. The absurdity of Aristophanes’ plot to his Athenian audience, who would never have believed their women capable of such a subtle plan, appears in stark contrast to that presented by the young London girls who strut their modernized stuff like Catherine Tate’s Lauren Cooper on “am I bovvered?” speed.

Moments of comedy do ensue, especially when the Gossard Wonderbra’d Maria Gray as Myrrhine excites her husband Cinesias (played wonderfully by Durassie Kiangangu) into priapic panic. Cleavages and groins grind in ecstatic glee, Cinesias left to writhe in agony as his wife withholds her charms just long enough to force her husband, and all the other males, into a peaceful conclusion to the years of battle.

Physical yes, though occasionally this physicality gets in the way of the narrative, making the whole difficult to follow. Nevertheless, a brave attempt to breathe knew life into the classic which ultimately succeeds because of the energy of the young cast rather than any conceptual cohesion.

After an interval, an entirely different experience, with an almost text-book presentation of The Bacchae. Almost text-book, because the play is peopled by the god-protagonist Dionysus (Amy Avery), supported by an excellent Chorus. Other characters are represented, however, by simple though effective puppets, whose glass-eyed papier-mâché’d features are as expressive as Euripides’ translated words.

Arlene Martinez-Vasquez has directed this difficult tragedy with passion and commitment. The Chorus really do act and speak in unison, even when expressing swift action and intense emotion. An unusual and effective theatrical experience and one which commands respect and admiration. Avery’s Dionysus is duly androgynous, exploding with anger at being slighted by his/her mortal followers.

Lysistrata & The Bacchae might seem raw in their production, but there is no denying that they provide a good vehicle for emerging talent to explore its potential. Perhaps a little less exuberance and a little more stillness and focus in Lysistrata, and perhaps more clarity in the narrative drive of The Bacchae. It is refreshing, though, to see the ancient translated into the modern in such a simple but effective way.

Barceloneta, at Night

By Javierantonio Gonzales, translated by Arlene Martinez
Part of the Casa Latin American Theatre Festival
Union Theatre, Southwark

Review by Philip Fisher (2008)

Barceloneta, at Night is an Ortonesque black comedy that brings a rare taste of Puerto Rico to Southwark.

The absurd comedy is supplemented by influences that include South American Magic Realism, gay cabaret and even a good dose of soap opera. All this is crammed into a very full hour under the direction of translator Arlene Martinez.

The central character says little and even that is not understood by his devoted servants/carers. He is a 97-year-old Nazi called Hans who might just be Hitler but then this is play in which a drag Marlene Dietrich and roller-blading German Professor (Gergo Danka) appear to be societal archetypes.

The surrounding characters all add colour, if not always much meaning. Enthusiastic Brina (Agnes Brekka) might be the old man's daughter and certainly becomes an object of his lust, even if she cannot force life-shortening pork between his lips.

Federico (Robert Carragher) appears to control the household and would like the old man dead but not until he has written the right kind of will. He loves Doctor Camillo (Daniel Curshen) who seems to have grown tired of their affair. Finally, there is a gardener Jorge (Miguel Oyarzon) who, along with a statue of Our Lady (Marlene Dietrich, not the other one) seems a likely candidate to do away with Hans.

Mix all of that lot together and you get a sometimes confusing but periodically funny comedy, spiced up by an intercom system that wittily goes on and off at the whim of the characters.

Barceloneta has the feel of an authentic sample of South American theatre and culture today and has enough quirky charm to warrant a visit, especially as it is accompanies two other plays from South America, of which more later in the week.