Antigonas, now on the Toronto stage, is “a vital declaration”
A few days ago, in a stunning, whisper-close and unexpected defeat, the population of Colombia voted down a referendum that may have seen peace with the insurgent FARC, a conflict with the Colombian government which has resulted in millions of deaths. Each of the women performing in Antigonas: Tribunal de Mujeres from Tramaluna Theatro, presented as the opener to this year’s third edition of the RUTAS panamericanas International Performing Arts Festival at the Daniels Spectrum Artscape, has experienced more than her fair share of death.
Their sons, siblings, fathers, entire families and friends have been falsely accused, imprisoned, and murdered by their own government. The play they produce for us takes the form of a trial, and is a gripping cri de coeur that honestly defies criticism, but results in a stunningly effective plea for peace.Antigonas references and reworks the story of the famous Greek tragedy Antigone in a Colombian context. The original play tells the story of Antigone, whose brothers die in a battle over who should be sole ruler. When the disfavoured agitator, Polynieces, is disavowed even in death and refused a religious burial, Antigone seeks to shout truth to power; willing to defy her uncle, she is punished with the greatest severity for burying her brother.
This Antigonas has nine Antigones, and they create a tribunal among us to speak this same truth to power, even with the threat of repercussion hanging over the proceedings. They, too, will not rest until their voices are heard, until there is peace and justice, and until their loved ones are found and properly laid to rest, physically and metaphorically.
They are led by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Luz Marina Bernal, but every woman brings the power of her personal true story and the deceased’s well-loved belongings to the stage, which act as totems against corruption. The stories are horrific: children, the mentally disabled, entire families and human rights activists all brutally disappear before our witnessing eyes, killed for no reason at all save the killer’s desperate desire for power.
Each woman tells her story directly to us, the tribunal, as a presentation, as if she’s told it a hundred times to herself and others in a performance that never ends and may never be rewarded. They desperately beg for our understanding and assistance, reminiscing fondly, heartbreakingly, and singing songs they’ve composed as they clutch a shirt or teddy bear belonging to their murdered sons.
The more theatrical moments, when they come together in sharp, coordinated movement, are particularly strong, breaking up the potentially-deadening litany of misery. There is a movement interlude with an unsettling masked figure and bloody doll that is visually chilling, and I would have liked to see more. There are also effective projections, particularly the ones that rest on objects of clothing held by the women.
The play is in Spanish with English supertitles, which proved to be the one disappointment, in placement and execution. So far above our heads that I had to tear my attention away from the performer’s face, they didn’t work correctly for most of the evening, often freezing, skipping and cutting out, playing at an uneven pace so you had to devote more and more time to staring at them. This added to the chaotic, unsettling feeling of the production, but was unintentional and resulted in my missing a not-insignificant amount of content. The technicians were clearly trying desperately to fix it, to no avail. This was probably due to opening night presentations, but do be aware that the 60-minute show clocked in at a 105-minute evening.
Antigonas is theatre, but almost not — edgy, glitchy and raw, it is a painful, but necessary experience. It is a vital declaration of an unfilled need that gapes like a treacherous hole in the heart.
- Antigonas: Tribunal de Mujeres is playing until October 8, 2016 at Daniels Spectrum Artscape (585 Dundas Street East)
- Shows run Thursday and Saturday at 7:30pm
- Ticket prices range from $17-22 and tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-531-1402
- The show is in Spanish with English subtitles, and contains disturbing content. Recommended for teens and older.
Photo of Angela Tiresias and Maria Juan Gomez by Viviana Peretti