It takes some amazing actors to make me forget that everyone was naked for the first 10 minutes of a show. Because, well naked is naked. But despite the fact that the cast of Antigonon, un contingente epico were partially or fully naked through most of the show, that wasn’t the most uncomfortable part. The most uncomfortable part was my woeful knowledge of Cuban history.
Antigonon, un contingente epico is part dance, part spoken word performance. It’s in Spanish with English subtitles. The subtitles are kind of helpful in that they are fast and they are narrating non-linear monologues and brief disjointed dialogues. So I read the words but they didn’t always sink in because I was distracted by the “exotically absurd costumes” and action on stage.
The performance starts with two women and two men on stage – stark naked. They dance in couples, exchanging partners and eventually end in a heap together. That gives way to the vignettes of solo performances, conversations and inquisitions. There are repeated themes – brothers and sisters together or not and fighting with or for each other. I was expecting more Antigone (Greek tragedy – where Antigone, daughter/sister of Oedipus fights to get her brother buried, gets caught burying him without permission and kills herself in defiance of being buried a live a weak answer to Creon’s decision not to kill her for burying her dead brother but just bury her alive) and more dance but I wasn’t disappointed with what I got.
The monologues are not straightforward but there is a feel for oppression that is kind of colonial but not quite, which could parallel US invasion of Cuba, Cuban independence from the US, Fulgencio Batista’s rule before and after his military coup (after the coup allowing US companies to dominate the economy), Fidel Castro’s revolution and the current tenuous relationship between US and Cuba. Although I’m seeing this from American eyes; there are also hints at the international take on for in Cuban with mention of Nazis and Russian history.
The overwhelming impression is that the show is intense. There is a scene when one of the women is talking to her husband (played by the other woman); the husband is willing to buy his bride anything but all she wants is a flower, although no subtlety was used in conveying the fact that a flower meant physical relationship. Even reading the fast paced dialogue, the intense, violently sexual actions on action were striking -and kind of funny – but mostly intense.
The dialogue, the costumes, the action are all shocking. Yet, they aren’t as wrenching as some of the historical video of violence in Cuba. There’s a deception of sleight of hand that’s at work in the show that draws a strong reaction without a full understanding of what has happened. If I were to see this show every night this weekend, I think I still would feel woeful in my knowledge but the show is so compelling that I’m tempted to try it.
Antigonon, un contingente epico will be performed by Teatro El Publico Jan 4-6 at The Walker.