October 28, 2014

A Review of Loyola Academy’s “The Burial At Thebes”

Loyola Academy’s Thespian Troupe 4729 performed Seamus Heaney’s adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone” this past weekend. As I’ve said in past blogs regarding this group’s talents on stage, I was not disappointed.

The play in itself is relevant, and these students’ addition of their talents brought a 2,500 year old Greek classic, through Heaney’s work, to 21st Century urban America. Through music, set layout and costume the stage was transformed into an eerie post-apocalyptic-like arena of 9/11 gloom and protective gear.

Not being a devotee of much “yell-y” music I wasn’t familiar with many of the songs that Rogue Manatees performed at the beginning. That being said, I experienced it with great pleasure. I was satisfied that I could recognize the band logos on the chorus’ t-shirts…at least the Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones ones! The style of music, especially the opening set, lent itself to a great sense of desperation, helplessness and fear – yet with that very human ability to “rise above” hopelessness. The concert-like atmosphere as the music began aided the audience in our entering into the play; it was very easy to be put into the play’s present and share in the events.

The plastic tarp as backdrop and background and props was another method used to facilitate the all-encompassing experience for us. The ladders on stage throughout the play lent to the sense of a post-disaster destruction or reconstruction. The choreography was stunning – the use of movement, song, words and props succeeded in tying the action together. The chorus’ agility with the props and set design, as well as their ability to sing without gasping, always impresses me – very professional.

Color was key to setting the tone, I think. The overall sense of milky grey dominated the stage because of the previously mentioned tarp. It provided a stark backdrop to the blackness around the eyes and pasty whiteness of the casts’ faces. Some color variety leeched in through the clothing, but not too much – until the end. The white fabric with which Antigone hanged herself and the red of Haemon’s blood stood out as key to the non-verbal expressions of the play.

Heaney wrote the adaptation in the early days of the “War On Terrorism” and captured the fear, both real and fabricated, that held, and still holds to some extent, American society hostage. The parallels with the ancient Greek world’s tension of obedience to the State versus to a higher authority still rings relevant. This obedience, patriotism, loyalty, fear and ignorance have plagued us from Sophocles’ day through inquisitions and witch hunts through Red Scares and Mafia/gang-related retaliations through Guantanamo interrogations and jihads. These are unfortunate truths that reach beyond the Bush and Obama Administrations and nullify any argument based on the partisan politics of our age.

I’m consistently heartened by the talent of local theatre in our city and surrounding area. My experience of Loyal Academy’s Thespians over the past three years has only added to that. It is even more of a joy to experience socially-relevant issues on stage than in simply being entertained.

Thank you once again to all involved with the performances!

March 10, 2013

A Review of Loyola Academy’s “Once On This Island”

In addition to the desire to hyper-link to a tropical island as winter makes its last gasps in Chicago, going to Loyola Academy’s Thespian Troupe 4729’s performance of Once On This Island, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, was a boost to my cultural immune system – bolstering it against network television’s blizzard of blather I would’ve been subjected to had I stayed home on Friday night.

I’ve seen the two performances this academic year by the Troupe and have not been disappointed. The musical kept pace with last fall’s Elephant’s Graveyard and even raised the level. Musicals are different by nature from non-musical productions and carry with them a different standard. My expectations were met and exceeded in the quality of the singing and in the energy and stage presence of the actors. It’s refreshing to see, hear, experience young talent onstage with the immediate goal of entertaining an audience who is present at the moment and for the moment, as opposed to impressing celeb judges and a home audience with an eye to a multi-million dollar recording contract.

The sets were simple and powerful yet again as was the case in Elephant’s – stark simplicity, allowing for freedom of movement and interpretation . Slats served to “support” the stage against a lightly lit backdrop creating an open, airy atmosphere. It was clear from the outset, as they watched from the balconies, that the gods Water, Earth, Love and Death, were major players. They each took their appropriate roles in the tale, marked by appropriate symbolic colors and executing their talents divinely. Costuming was vibrant and flashed across the stage with everyone’s movements in a seamless weave of visuals, music and dance.

The downside is in the fact that it was only one act! The play is what it is, the script is what it is, and the troupe kept to it in letter and spirit. A longer version (not the responsibility of Loyola Academy, btw) would’ve shown greater depth in the relationship between Ti Moun and Daniel, the tension between their two worlds which shared the same island, and the higher stakes of their love. This is something that a novel can do in more detail than a stage production. (The musical is an adaptation of My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy.)

I enjoy watching gods being portrayed as either “other than us” or “just like us”. When there’s a mixture of the two as the play is written, I’m usually a bit put off when the divine beings come off as more human than divine – I figure, hey, if they’re just like us, what the hell are we paying them for? My proclivities for superhuman gods aside, I think the regeneration of Love as shown at the end through the tree, another child and Daniel’s son brings everything to its hoped for conclusion. A very hope-filled play with a well-deserved cast, crew, orchestra et al. brings it all to life.

This is yet another sign that America’s got talent…and it ain’t on TV.