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'Too Much Memory' puts modern spin on 'Antigone'

Growing up in the '60s, actor/director/playwright Meg Gibson watched demonstrations during one of the country's most turbulent eras. "If you wanted to protest, you could go protest," she said.

But she didn't find that to be in the case in 2003.

"My 19-year-old niece and her friends came to stay with us in New York. The country had just invaded Iraq, and they were going to the United Nations to protest.

"In the middle of February, they were put in pens so far away from the U.N., no one could hear them," she said. "If they stepped out of the pen for any reason, they were arrested and taken in handcuffs to school buses where they were kept overnight — no food or water," Gibson said in a phone interview.

"I had that experience in my mind when I went to work on the play."

Gibson and writing partner Keith Reddin (who is also now her husband) wrote "Too Much Memory," which opens this week at Salt Lake Acting Company. The theater describes it as an "adaptation of an adaptation of a translation of 'Antigone.' "

While discussing her niece's experience, Gibson said, "it was so strange to me that they had sufficiently put laws into place that you did not have a voice. Effectively, they'd (her niece and her friends) been scared to where they'd think twice about going to a protest again."

"Too Much Memory" — the story of Antigone, set in modern times — is about a woman whose two brothers die in battle. The new ruler has decided one will be buried honorably while the other will be left to rot as carrion. Antigone decides to make a stand for what she believes is right — risking death — in order to give proper burial to her brother's body.

The play premiered in 2008 as part of the New York Fringe Festival, which it won in what Gibson calls "an embarrassment of praise" from enthusiastic theatergoers who were caught up in a heated election season. "I think the message that you have to tell the truth speaks to people. You have to take a stand to protect freedom, and you have to have a voice."

Though most folks in New York City are "a bunch of liberals," she notes that the play "is constructed so that both points of view, both Creon, the older ruler, and Antigone, the younger demonstrator, both are extreme," she said. "Both are wrong and both are right."

"Sophicles was exactly right — there isn't an answer to this question. But it must continually be out there as a dialogue."

In the meantime, Gibson, who is in Salt Lake City to direct her play for SLAC, is thrilled to be "home."

"I have a long history with SLAC," Gibson said. She grew up on the East Coast and wanted to go into theater, "but my parents were terrified of that," she said. "They would not let me go to New York or Boston. But one day the U. of U. catalog was sitting on the coffee table and I came out here to go to school.

"I had fantastic teachers at the school. I acted at SLAC, I directed there. I've known them since I was a teenager. It's such a safe environment.

"And I love being in Utah in the wintertime," she added. "It literally takes my breath away how pretty it is here."

If you go…

What: "Too Much Memory"

When: Feb. 3-28, times vary

Where: Salt Lake Acting Company,168 W. 500 North

How much: $18-$27

Phone: 801-363-7522