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Oscar Riba and Alejandra Orozco
in La Pásion Según Antígona Pérez
(Photo: Nigel Teare)
Repertorio Espanol brings us La Pásion Según Antígona Pérez, an updating of the Antigone myth to Latin America of the 1960s. Here, Antigone--a young woman "of no age, of no country"--defies the dictator Creón Molina by hiding the corpses of two of her revolutionary 'brothers.' It is an apt restyling, set in a time of changing politics, dictators, and martyrs, beautifully executed at the Gramercy Arts Theatre.

This bold retelling trades in stark, primary colors. Gone is the nuanced philosophiocal debate of, say, Sophocles or Anouilh. Luis Rafael Sánchez gives us an Antigone that is less theater than propaganda, calling to mind the brash, clear-cut posters of the Third Reich or Stalinist Russia. Dictator Creón Molina (Oscar Riba) is as wicked and absolutely evil as Antígona Pérez (Alejandra Orozco) is pure, ideal, and oppressed. Pilar Molina (Ana Margarita Martínez-Casado) as the sexy, Machiavellian brains behind the dictator brings some spice to the story. A dynamic, all-male chorus (Juan Sebastián Aragón, Erik Fabregat, Lucio Fernández, Gerardo Gudiño, Marcelo Rodríguez, and Angel Comas, Jr.) is beautifully employed to represent the censored press, the soldiers, and the oppressed people of the country.

The play was written in 1968, a time of change both artistically and politically in Latin America. Brecht's influence is clear here, as it was on so many of Sánchez' contemporaries, in terms of high theatricality and the obvious political agenda. Characters speak directly to the audience, and villains are mere mouthpieces for social forces. Viewers are meant to leave the theater charged for action, rather than drained of emotion.

For the most part, this is electric theater, liberated from the mire of realistic acting that plagues the North American stage and screen. Director René Buch vigorously leads the charge. The set, designed by Robert Weber Federico, consists of two enormous, blood-drenched sheets which funnel the line of action clear back to the exposed rear of the stage, serving as a shroud-like frame for the atrocities within.

The actors perform in Spanish. Simultaneous translation is available through headphones, but it is thoroughly awful; both readers had great difficulty keeping up and seemed unfamiliar with the script. Great patches of dialogue went by confused or unexplained. And, if this wasn't bad enough, the readers periodically broke into inappropriate laughter! One imagines that it isn't always this bad, that the company has some readers who don't mispronounce every word above two syllables. However the night I attended, fully 30 percent of the audience--those with tell-tale headphones--had left the theater before the second act.

For those who are willing to trust their command of Spanish, or who can simply enjoy the spectacle, La Pasión Según Antígona Pérez is rewarding theater. Vigorous, stark, and uncompromising, it echoes Antígona's cry for "una América dura, América amarga, América tomada."

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