Peter Jay Fernandez and Laura Heisler
in Too Much Memory
(© Paula Court)
Peter Jay Fernandez and Laura Heisler
in Too Much Memory
(© Paula Court)
A suicide bomber, text messaging, and a press conference are just a few of the modern-day touches that Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson have inserted into Too Much Memory, the husband-and-wife team's vibrant re-working of Antigone, now at the Fourth Street Theatre under Gibson's direction.

The work owes more to Jean Anouilh's version of the tale than Sophocles' actual Greek tragedy. Indeed, Too Much Memory derives several of its scenes directly from those of the French playwright -- including the one-man chorus (here played by Martin Moran) commenting upon the actors prior to the start of the play; a scene between Antigone (Laura Heisler) and Haemon (Seth Numrich) that fleshes out their relationship; revelations that Creon (Peter Jay Fernandez) unfolds about Antigone's brothers, Polynices and Eteocles; and a riveting scene between Antigone and a guard (Ray Anthony Thomas) that showcases the supposedly implacable martyr's humanity.

The adapters also borrow a trick from playwright Charles Mee, who has done his own share of reworking Greek myths. Reddin and Gibson incorporate texts from a range of authors, including Richard Nixon, Peter Brook, Pablo Neruda, Susan Sontag, and Hannah Arendt. In one of the most striking sequences of the play, Creon's wife Eurydice (wonderfully portrayed by Wendy vanden Heuvel) describes what it's like to be a politician's silent partner, and tells a story wherein her husband played "Happy Birthday" to her on the piano at a public event in front of hundreds of people, and then turned away when she went to embrace him -- an incident that actually happened to former First Lady Pat Nixon.

Heisler does a fine job depicting both Antigone's stubbornness and awareness of her status as a revolutionary. In this version of the tale, she's cognizant that her trial is in the court of public opinion and attempts to pitch her case to the media. Creon, for his part, allows this to some extent, but saves his best strategies for his one-on-one dealings with Antigone. Fernandez is believable as a leader trying to walk a tight line between wielding power and retaining it. Pride isn't his downfall; it's the misplaced priorities about what he thinks the country needs as opposed to what the people really seem to want.

Moran is charming and likable as the Chorus, presenting a buffer between the audience and the action that makes the play's journey more about intellectual reflection than an emotional experience. Aria Alpert's Ismene has more depth than most interpretations of the character, possibly because this version gives her a slightly stronger spine and a mission from her sister, who tells her before she's led off to die: "you can tell others what I've done. / That's your role Ismene. / To fill my silence." The look on Alpert's face following this line makes it clear that she's determined to do just that. The remaining cast members also do good work.

Too Much Memory may not be the definitive version of Antigone's story, but it is an engaging interpretation that successfully transposes the action to a modern setting, and explores political choices, compromises, and punishments that are analogous to those faced by contemporary leaders on both the national and international fronts.