One abiding truth to emerge from the women's movement of the 1970s holds that the personal is political. Our individual experiences are influenced by larger political and socioeconomic systems, which our individual choices can influence in turn. It's striking that four current local productions, spanning a mere two-and-a-half millennia, are examining various perspectives on the personal and the political.
THE BURIAL AT THEBES, Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney's adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone, asks what an individual must do when the demands of the state would usurp those of faith and family. Under Mia Self's direction, actor Philipp Lindemann suggests a visual cross between Tilda Swinton and early David Bowie as a chilly Creon, imposing the new order of things from atop the blasted, pitted marble balcony of a palace recently under siege.
Set designer Jayme Mellema's imposing three-story edifice isn't the only element that suggests post-9/11 New York. In Heaney's script, patriotism, as narrowly defined by those now in charge, is paramount. Simply questioning an edict brings one's citizenship into inquiry—and Antigone (aggressive Natalie Sherwood) intends to do far more than question. In performing the burial rites Creon has forbidden for her brother, an enemy of the state, Antigone will expose the ruthlessness and intolerance of Creon's government to any external authority—including the gods.
Aeron Mobasher's Tiresias, the blind prophet, delivers the news, and hubris finds its ultimate reward, in a production whose extreme emotional bandwidth challenges this student cast at times.
The personal is similarly plunged into the political when Lotte, a British homebody on vacation, is suddenly thrust into the Peloponnesian War—or some covert, contemporary military analogue, perhaps—in TROJAN BARBIE. Christine Evans' time-warp strives to point out that Euripedes' doomed Trojan Women were actually the first documented inhabitants of a refugee camp. Their modern-day counterparts can be found—at least, for the moment—in Kenya, Syria and Southern Kurdistan.
Of course, we don't see those stories very often or in great depth, for reasons this StreetSigns production doesn't entirely solve. The soul-crushing monotony of a continued siege is, among other things, the antithesis of drama (and, apparently, network news). Conveying its reality without succumbing to its sameness occasionally challenges director Joseph Megel and Elisabeth Lewis Corley in her role as Hecuba.
Bonnie K. Allison Gould convinces as a bewildered Lotte, against a strong cast of supporting actors including Marie Garlock as a spunky Polly X, Allison Schlobohm as Helen of Troy and David Paladin-Fernandez as the soldier Jorge. Amber Wood provides gravitas as Andromache, and choreographer Heather Tatreau's stage compositions ably depict some of the horrors of this world.
In Amy Herzog's 4000 MILES at PlayMakers, questions of personal responsibility stymie two characters—Vera, a 90-year-old who came of age in the American Left of the 1940s, and her 21-year-old Gen-Y grandson, Leo—as they both try to build and preserve personal relationships and community.
Under Desdemona Chiang's nuanced direction, an able Schuyler Scott Mastain slowly reveals the degree to which Leo has run out of road, time and options as he crashes at his grandmother's Greenwich Village apartment after a disastrous cross-country bike trip. Not that things are much rosier for Vera (Dee Maaske, in a notable PlayMakers debut). Losing her political compatriots to old age and mostly estranged from her daughter, Vera's social sphere is on the verge of collapse when Leo shows up.
During a series of soul-baring and, at times, amusing conversations, both characters reevaluate their existing commitments: to each other, their friends, their neighbors and their politics. By the time we've gone the extra mile with them, both seem in the process of forsaking the illusions of the ideal for the realities of the world they now inhabit.
Stillwater Theatre Company artistic director Steven Roten explores another question of identity in his new play, MONUMENTAL. Esperanza (Rimsha Afzal), a young Cuban émigré grieving over the military death of her brother Alejandro, struggles to reconcile her idea of American citizenship with those she sees around her. Her first trip to the Mall in Washington, D.C., brings this conflict to a head as she observes joggers desecrating a memorial she has considered sacred ground. "They mock this place," she tells her sister, Solana (Aubree Hackler). "It makes my heart hurt."
Strong support, under Roten and Tamara Farias' co-direction, comes from Risa Poniros' rock-solid work as Aunt Rosa and from Victor Rivera, in flashbacks, as the deceased Alejandro. But the challenge still remaining when I saw Monumental recalls a difficulty Trojan Barbie faced: a central character given a narrow emotional bandwidth until very late in the game.
Even the outlier of the week, Burning Coal's production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, doesn't completely escape the theme that unites the other four. Not when Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and James Lapine's book carefully note the degree to which the politics inside the art world have largely determined, for centuries, who is seen (and, quite literally, in what light).
In taking liberties with the life of Georges Seurat, the 19th-century painter who introduced pointillism to modern art, this Pulitzer prize-winning work becomes a knowing meditation on the less attractive aspects of being a bleeding-edge artist. Under Jerome Davis' direction, actor Tyler Graeper, who plays Seurat and a fictional modern-day descendent, contends with uncooperative working conditions and collaborators, fickle peers, financiers and critics (in the delightfully snarky song "No Life"), including a critical parent (robust Lenore Field).
But the greatest schism comes when the drive to see and document the world in ways no one has before circumscribes an artist's ability to live and participate in that world. In "Everybody Loves Louis" and "We Do Not Belong Together," a luminous Natalie Reder as Dot, Seurat's unhappy lover, challenges the artist. Tellingly, in both acts, Graeper's characters keep returning to the same word: "connect."
Christian Stahr's musical direction and strong supporting actors including Alec Donaldson, Diana Cameron McQueen, Alex Reynolds and Mary Floyd Page aid this insider account of artistic alienation, devotion and insight.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Globe theater"