Soap Opera in Greek

Impact Theatre stages Antigone for a modern audience.

Greek plays provide endless grist for social commentary, especially
when it comes to war and its ramifications. Thus, it’s easy to see why
a few 2,000-year-old texts still have tremendous currency in the Bay
Area theater world: Lysistrata became a perennial favorite after
the Iraq invasion; Oresteia made an East Bay comeback last month
via modern adaptations by Round Belly and Ragged Wing theater
companies. The best of the bunch is Sophocles’ Antigone,
reinterpreted by local playwright Jon Tracy in a new Impact Theatre
production. With an extremely well-crafted script, Tracy distills all
the themes of the ancient play and transplants them into a modern
context. The result, called See How We Are, differs from other
productions in that it isn’t just a protest play. Rather, Tracy zooms
in on the dysfunctional family at the center of an ongoing civil
war.

See How We Are revolves around the Bank family, a celebrity
dynasty similar to the Bushes and the Clintons, but overburdened with
tabloid personalities. At the helm sits patriarch Edward Bank (the
Oedipal figure), who sired four children through an incestuous
relationship with his mother. Papa Bank ultimately gouges his eyes out
and winds up in a hospital bed, where the kids keep watch until his
death. At that point, they inherit the throne of Thebes — much to
the chagrin of a populace already accustomed to watching Bank family
squabbles on their government-issued TVs. Thus, the plot gets set into
motion.

One could hardly imagine a more unqualified group of leaders.
Brother rivals James (Ryan Tasker) and Paul (Seth Thygesen) spar for
the executive seat, each leading his own army. Meanwhile, their sister
Ari (Kendra Lee Oberhauser) plays battlefield video games (Beast
Town
and Death Toll XXX) while going to blows with the other
sister, Izzy (Sarah Mitchell). A voice of reason finally arrives in the
form of Izzy’s punk boyfriend Jud (Rob Dario), who becomes the family’s
only connection to the underclass of Thebes. As Paul points out, Jud is
kind of a weird interloper — someone who listens to
anti-establishment music but flirts with, well, the
establishment — but he’s the only one capable of giving
the Banks any kind of outside perspective. Still, he can’t save the
family from self-destruction.

Part of what makes this play brilliant is the acting, in that each
performer has such an over-amplified persona. Thygesen, who will
forever be remembered as the cell-phone-dangling Demetrius in Impact’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, can play any douchebag character
that’s thrown at him. With his lumbering frame and wide, bearish
shoulders, he colonizes any space he enters. His Paul is funny in a
school-bully kind of way, sneering at the others and badgering Jud to
“Please, enlighten us as to what the fuck you mean.” Ari (the Antigone
character) is his female doppelganger: a boorish tomboy who roughhouses
with her siblings when she’s not bickering with her girlfriend, Hayl
(Jacqueline Haines). She’s a dubious moral compass in comparison to the
original Antigone, who protected her disgraced brother Polyneices (the
original Paul) out of family loyalty, then sacrificed herself in the
end. In this version, Ari does indeed stick up for Paul, but more out
of partisanship than a desire to protect the Bank name. She appears to
hate her other siblings.

To give a better sense of the Bank family’s class privilege, Tracy
puts them in a pristine, antiseptic environment. He paints the entire
set white, from the walls to the machine guns to the flowers on their
dining room table. He has each character dress in white so that their
bodies appear to melt into the background — Oberhauser’s
bone-blond hair is barely distinguishable from the surrounding walls.
The playwright then indulges his fondness for deconstruction, telling
the story in flashback and freeze-framing the action. He employs
VH1-style editing to make it seem like a soap opera being acted out on
a government-issued TV screen. (Like Jud, we’re all voyeurs to the Bank
family drama.) Colin Trevor’s industrial soundscape — which
combines speaker static with ominous voiceovers — makes the
environment seem even more insular, as though these character were
locked in a prison of their own making.

It’s a perfect setup for petty jealousies and eventual implosion.
Paul and James detest one another; Ari and Hale jockey for position;
everyone takes pleasure in victimizing Jud. But the ultimate frenemy
relationship is that of Izzy and Ari. Izzy is the seeker, the one who
brings an outsider (Jud) into the Bank’s realm, the one who will
ultimately survive. Ari, who finds escape in video games, is doomed
like the rest. In a particularly poignant moment, Izzy remembers a time
when both sisters received doll houses for Christmas: Izzy’s was a huge
castle with towers and turrets; Ari’s was an exact-scale replica of her
house. Not surprisingly, Ari is peeved: “Why would he (my father) give
her a huge version of her imagination, and me a tiny version of my
reality?” she asks the audience.

It’s lines like those that show just how brilliant Jon Tracy really
is.

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