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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