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Antebellum

March 6th, 2012 No comments

Antebellum @ CPT

Went and saw Antebellum last night at CPT. I was interested in the play largely because I’m working on one right now that has two similar stories taking place in different time periods and I was interested in this element of the play.  To this end I have read and seen Thomas Gibbon’s House with No Walls, and plan on reading Time of My Life by Alan Ayckbourn and Leah’s Train by Karen Hartman.  If anyone else knows of plays with multiple time periods represented, let me know.

I think O’Hara handled Antebellum, structurally, well enough. Having just finished reading A House with No Walls, which I saw at Karamu several years ago, I don’t think O’Hara did as well as Gibbons in terms of stage pictures, pacing, and scene/inter-scene movement.  There was one very nice moment at the end of the play when Edna/Gabriel is leaving the concentration camp and there is an immediate transition to the next time period (three or so years later) when Edna/Gabriel is leaving the plantation.  It was a great transition.  Another was when Edna and Gabriel are looking at each other in the “mirror” or in the future/past; although, again, it was not as powerful a moment as that of Oney Judge and Cadence Lane in HWNW.

I was never really clear on the genre of the play—not that it matters so much, but when a play keeps skipping genres you expect a certain type of play—Eric Overmyer or Len Jenkins come to mind—but this one jumped unintentionally, I think.  If not, it was unclear how the genres were being used. I was strongly certain that it was a drama, at the outset, that was going to address serious issues in a dramatic form.  As time passed, I felt that I was getting clobbered over the head by something that was not remotely as engaging as Brecht—but I was definitely kept from empathizing. As it wore further on, it felt like a melodrama (too often)—and by the end, when the THIRD gun was shot I was expecting a maiden hogtied at a railroad crossing with Baron von Schleicher and his evil black moustache to pop out with a wicked laugh.  There were musical elements, and elements that surely would have done better as pure black comedy—the Scarlet O’Hara wanna-be (Sarah Roca—played very well, as always, by Laurel Hoffman) coming on with a shotgun at the end, for instance.

Does the play raise important questions?  Sure. With all the things going on in the play, how could it not?  For instance, I have to admit that I never gave much thought to the similarity between Nazi Germany and the American South—or maybe just America, as I’m sure some Black Americans would point out; or to pre-war Germany and pre-Civil War America. But what does it mean for us today?  Hmmmm.  I think, if my hand were forced, I’d have to draw the comparison between the modern American and the character of Sarah Roca.  This character is so excited about a world premiere movie and having her dress made up and put on that she overlooks the depravity of the whole event (a celebration of Antebellum America—slaves and all).  And given that this is the title of the play, I’d have to believe that this is the direction that O’Hara (Robert, not Scarlet) is pointing us.  That is, there are grand cultural illusions at play and they rely on the subjugation and abuse of others–take a look at Food, Inc., as I just did, to see this issue playing out in our society today. In the terms of the play, it’s sort of a Gone with the Wind meets The Wind Done Gone. Grand illusions come before the war: before the “blood hate.” Unfortunately, this message, if this is even the message, it is just lost in the jumbling of often two-dimensional characters whose situations devolve into an overly melodramatic story with people ranting at each other.

The set was great, but the sound in the space made it very difficult to hear what was being said at the end opposite me (toward Parish Hall).  The costumes and lights were great, too. The actors delivered admirable performances, especially given the Southern accents, German language, singing, and other demands of the script; and Beth Wood kept it all moving along over a solid two-hours and twenty-minute show.

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