Review: ‘Antigonón, un contingente épico’ at The Kennedy Center

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As the audience gathers in the Eisenhower, antique footage rolls on the screen: people gathering, moving, marching. José Martí, Cuban national hero, poet, and revolutionary flashes on the screen.

Teatro El Público’s ‘Antigonón, un contingente épico’. Photo by Lessy Montes de Oca.

The stage goes dark.

When the lights return, four naked actors stand on stage, in aesthetically gorgeous amber light: two men and two women frozen before the eye.

A form of contact improvisation ensues: same-sex couples paired, then opposite sex couples.

Then, in a series of monologues, the two women disappear and re-appear in various forms of elaborately “sexy” garb, from which they deliver what can best be described as sensuously bloody poetry, with streaks of humor smeared across the carnage.

Then one realizes that it is not the naked body that is forbidden, but the naked body half hidden that tempts and seduces.

With Cuba’s Teatro El Público’s Antigonón, un contingente épico you will experience presentational theatre at its finest.

More image than action.

More poetry than prose.

More iconography than reality.

Teatro El Público’s ‘Antigonón, un contingente épico’. Photo by Lessy Montes de Oca.

Playwright Rogelio Orizondo’s Antigonón, un contingente épico explodes across the stage in a series of hallucinations, rich in cultural context and ripe in provocative allure.

So don’t expect to walk away with meaning afterwards. And don’t expect to sum things up with a coherent plotline, because neither meaning or coherence is Orizondo’s intent. In fact, if anything is for certain, here in this cultural landscape “meaning” is left for the “primitive” pre-21st century human being.

Rooted in the obsession with “homeland” and, of course, in nostalgia for the classical, the “sane”, the heroic Antigone, Teatro El Público’s dystopian theatrical adventure explores a broad range of modern elements, each associated with those roots but not limited by them.

Teatro El Público’s ‘Antigonón, un contingente épico’. Photo by Lessy Montes de Oca.

For Antigonón, un contingente épico has more to do with invasion than coherence. In other words, this show sparkles with cultural fragments, allusions to heroes and heroines, to Aristotelian dramas infinitely reproduced, to urban hip-hop and its blatant street-machismo, to an exotic, once grand cabaret culture, to modernity’s cyber threats and hyper-commercialism, to what is perhaps the world’s most pressing question: in this age of borderless borders, what does “Homeland” even mean any more?

The five actors dominate the proceedings, with Giselda Calero and Dayse Focade in solo and combination stealing the show, with some of the most robust gestural characterizations you’ll ever see. That’s not to say that Luis Manuel Alvarez, Linnett Hernández, and Roberto Espinosa Sebazco didn’t have their moments, for they did, and to brilliant effect. When a sugarcane icon turns drag queen for song and dance, you’ve got to admire the transformation, a transformation that is as indicative of this “adventure” and its take on cultural change as anything else in the show.

Directed by Carlos Diaz, Antigonón dares you to pinpoint its center. With set designs by Roberto Ramos Mori and lighting by Oscar Bastansuri, the visual lines were clean and the shadows dramatically effective.

But the costume designs by Celia Lendón Acosta were the true show-stoppers, particularly when Ms. Calero used them as props, gyrating and flapping their appendages like sex-toys.  In a theatrically minimal world, invention is the mother of all entertainment.

By the time the show ended and the five actors proceeded off the stage as a cadre of robotic youth, the only thing left for “real and natural” were those four naked people we saw standing silently on stage at show’s start.

Everything else was but a battlefield.

Of the last fragment standing.

Running Time: 85 minutes, without an intermission.

Antigonón, un contingente épico plays through March 22, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater—2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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