"Too Much Memory," through Feb. 28, Salt Lake Acting Company, times vary, matinees available, (801-363-7522); running time: one hour, 20 minutes (no intermission)
As you enter the theater, the cast is already milling about the stage for Salt Lake Acting Company's production of "Too Much Memory."
There are men in military uniforms, an actress studying her lines, one man in a suit and a woman quietly doing a crossword puzzle — an unusual introduction, befitting an unusual piece.
Playwright Meg Gibson began toying with an adaptation of "Antigone" after watching her niece try to protest the invasion of Iraq. With poor treatment from the government, Gibson's niece and friends now had what Gibson calls "squashed voices" and were effectively scared away from the idea of protesting.
So in this "adaptation of an adaptation of a retranslation," as the theater calls it, we meet Antigone in modern times. She's young and feisty and ready to take a stand against the treatment of the body of her slain brother — left unburied to rot and become feed for wildlife.
Knowing the penalty for this could be death, Antigone is undeterred and feels compelled to take a stand. Her older and more beautiful sister, Ismene, doesn't agree and encourages Antigone to stop.
In a pre-show interview, Gibson said "both Creon (Antigone's uncle) and Antigone have extreme points of view and both are right and both are wrong. Dialogue is what's important; it's a necessity."
But what really makes this production worth your time are outstanding performances from a solid cast, top to bottom.
First out is Lane Richins as the Chorus. Relaxed and conversational, he sets the modern-day tone for the piece, as well as adding a bit of comedy to the tragedy.
Austin Archer's (Haemon) moment of heartbreak at losing the woman he loves is beautifully moving, and Teri Cowan (Eurydice) delivers an equally moving speech about Creon's unwillingness to bend.
As Creon, Morgan Lund's strong stage presence lends itself to the calm, resolved man who at times is left to question his own choices. And Nicki Nixon is fiery enough for Antigone, but at times it felt like she burst out of the gate at her highest intensity, leaving little room to explore or grow. It seemed she had pulled out all the stops in the first scene. But her pain, fear and belief in her decisions were believable.
There was only one moment that didn't jibe with the rest of the mood, which happened toward the end. The characters have each lost someone they love and they scream, one at a time, set to music. It starts to feel a little bit comical at what should be a somber moment.
But that's rather minor in a show examining such weighty issues, and "Too Much Memory" is a good reminder about our democracy and our freedoms that we often take for granted.
Sensitivity rating: Very strong language.