Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Breaking Through the Square - ANTIGONE: 方 - Play Review

ANTIGONE: 方 - Young People's Theatre Mainstage - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Jeff Ho, Directed by Stephen Colella and Karen Gilodo
Runs until May 16th 2019

In an update of the Greek classic Antigone, Jeff Ho melds the old tale with allusions to Tiananmen Square and the Hong Kong Yellow Umbrella Movement in a haunting and chilling production being performed (and produced) by Young People's Theatre for its audience but reverberates for citizens of all ages.

In a transformed mainstage space with in-the-round seating, the high brick walls flanked by imposing red banners (are red banners ever not imposing?) and two giant loudspeakers surround the audience and square platform stage (方 from the title means square) lined with light patterns and a lighting design (by Rebecca Picherack) working seamlessly with Christine Urquhart's semi-futuristic, semi-timeless set and costume designs that mix apocalyptic future with hints of Communist China but leave it open to an anytime and place interpretation.

Adding to the mood with David Mesiha's sound design, Stephen Colella and Karen Gilodo's tone is set with the stark imagery of red umbrellas used as a prop that doubles as weapons, shields, bodies, in a tale of rebellion and and the law. With some subtle changes, Jeff Ho puts Antigone (Jasmine Chen) between her father Creon (John Ng) and her brothers Teo (Aldrin Bundoc) and Neikes (Jeff Yung) when Neikes finds himself opposing the injustice and violence incited by the state. When their mother gets taken and placed in re-education, family members begin taking different sides, as Creon follows the rule of law, with Teo finding himself fighting his own brother Neikes, who sees the truth behind the laws and fights to save the people's rights. The sisters, Antigone and Ismene (Rachel Mutombo) find their loyalties split, especially when a stranger, Haemon (Simon Gagnon) shows up at their door looking for help, and having information on Neikes while hiding from Creon.

Jeff Ho's new adaptation keeps us guessing on where the stakes lay as loyalties and ethical and moral sides begin taking shape under an oppressive regime. Watching the multicultural cast tell this tale is particularly exciting and gives the anytime/anyplace/future/now a particular urgency. The cast, made up of Toronto's talented pool, including John Ng (Kim's Convenience) and Soo Garay, and YPT's Selfie alums Rachel Mutombo and Christopher Allen, is a wonderful ensemble of actors to carry out Ho's complex retelling under Colella and Gilodo's tense and tight production.

This may be one of the more serious Young People's Theatre shows in recent times but it is not presented without humour. Ho has written a terrific new update on Antigone that manages to mix the elements of Greek Theatre, Chinese and Hong Kong history, and that also have hints of Toronto's G20 protests, that asks us as citizens to question what is the moral guideline one needs to follow, and is it ok to break out from the square peg?

Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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