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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Antigone and Chess


Children's Theatre Company Antigone

Antigone
Sonja Parks
Anchored by a moving performance by Sonja Parks as the titular rebellious teenager, the Children's Theatre Company brings the ancient tale of Antigone to life in a thrilling and energetic production.

Presented in promenade style, with the audience mingling amid the action, Antigone takes Sophocles' play and puts enough of a modern twist on it to draw in audiences, but it always remains true to the original story. In other words, there is no miraculous salvation at the end for Antigone, she is as doomed as always - doomed by her love of her family and by the bull-headed actions of the king.

The staging presents interesting challenges to the actors and the audience. Those watching are constantly shuffling about, looking for the best view of the action, which takes place mainly on a number of platforms around the black box theater, but also at times amid the people. To their credit, the actors never lose their focus, whether the action is focused on them or not. The audience - who become a non-speaking part of the chorus in the show - provides an amazing amount of energy that the actors feed off throughout the 70-minute piece.

Parks plays Antigone with pure youthful drive, never pausing in her conviction that her beloved brother should be given an honored burial and not be left out as carrion for fighting against the state. Luverne Siefert has an equally strong turn as Creon, who is also absolutely sure of his actions until the show's final moments.

They are aided by a quartet of players taking up the rest of the named roles, a pair of musicians providing Eastern-European-tinged accompaniment and heavy percussion, and eight more players taking up the chorus.

Sometimes, the parallels drawn between the ancient Greek world are our own are hammered home. This comes out in a victory celebration that sounds as if it were drawn from the days following the "end" of the Iraq invasion. It's pretty easy for the audience to draw these connections, so we don't need a map detailing the route from point A to point B.

Still, director Greg Banks, the rest of the production crew and the performers have crafted an entertaining, thrilling and - best of all - thought-provoking interpretation of an ancient story that, it seems, will always remain current.

Antigone runs through November 19 on the Cargill Stage at the Children's Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis. Call 612-874-0400 or visit www.childrenstheatre.org.


Minneapolis Musical Theatre Chess

Chess is a mess.

Chess
Shaun Nathan Baer, Emily Brooke Hansen, Thomas Karki, Tim Kuehl and Marissa Joy Selvig
The show's complex history (first an album, then a London show, then a Broadway show, then a touring show, and so on) and dated Cold War material are tough enough, but Richard Nelson's book is a confusing parade of characters and events that never come together.

So it is really a credit to the performers that the Minneapolis Musical Theatre production of Chess isn't an utter waste of time. With good voices and winning characterizations, they bring the audience through the 2-hour show, leaving us some good memories along the way.

The music helps. Penned by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame and with lyrics by Tim Rice, the songs are bouncy and catchy, even if they are a bit dated (a lot of music from the 1980s suffers from this - the era's conventions have not aged well).

The plot follows a tense world championship chess match between an American and a Soviet. The Cold War is fading, but the old distrusts continue. Caught in the middle of this is Florence, the "second" to the American champion Freddy and a Hungarian expatriate. She becomes smitten with the Russian champion, Anatoly, who is willing to give up all for her love.

Now the story is nowhere nearly as focused as all that. Characters move in and out of the story with little explanation, while the real center of the play - Florence - doesn't emerge as that until well into the first act. It doesn't help that setting the story near the end of Soviet rule takes away a lot of the drama. With the government's collapse so close, the division between the two characters and the decisions they make are more inconveniences instead of life-changing choices.

Amid all of this are some good songs and excellent performances, including turns by Emily Brooke Hansen as Florence and Thomas Karki as Anatoly. Tim Kuehl is solid as Freddy, though his presentation on the show's most-familiar tune, "One Night in Bangkok," sounds tentative - as if he isn't at all comfortable with the song's patter-like vocals.

The production is generally solid, with good direction from Steven Meerdink and a nicely crafted set from Jay Schueller. Still, MMT might have been better served by just presenting the music in a concert setting, and forgetting the book altogether.

Chess runs through November 19 at the Hennepin Stages, 824 Hennepin Avenue. For tickets, call (612) 673-0404 or visit www.aboutmmt.org.


Photo: Laurie Etchen


- Ed Huyck



Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area