We Love Arts: Antebellum

Jessica Frances Dukes as Edna and Jenna Sokolowski,shot by Stan Barouh

I pondered letting this one pass without comment; one of the virtues of writing for a blog rather than a Paper of Record is that I’m not obligated to weigh in. In the end, though, I decided I’d weigh in, however briefly. In no small part because I’m so struck by the difference in reaction between Missy Frederick over at DCist and Peter Marks of the Washington Post.

With Frederick using words like “brilliant” and Marks questioning what story the playwright is actually trying to tell I can’t help but wonder if we all saw the same play. Perhaps the three of us are going to act out the stereotypical blogs vs. mainstream media routine. Frederick finds it satisfying and moving,  Marks is calmly in the middle, saying he hopes this debut later shakes out into a more satisfying shape, and I don’t really think there’s anything really worthwhile in Antebellum for it to develop into.

All three of us thought there were some really ticklingly funny moments and good acting, but I question that something that wanders so far about could really be pulled together into a cohesive piece. There’s some neat stagecraft at work here, both in the way characters enter and exit the stage for their scenes and in how the set transforms, but that’s not enough to carry Antebellum or make us feel for the characters.

There’s a clever conceit that shows up in the second act, with players sometimes dawdling onstage during scene changes, apparently observing what’s going on in a different place and time. However the way it waits till then to show up somewhat diminishes its effectiveness; if this had been part of the play from the beginning we might have gotten to get some more connection and understanding of the characters by seeing what they see, and presumably being shown just just an explanation of what’s happened before but also a lesson about what was important to them and how they remembered it.

The play doesn’t opt for this, however, presumably because then we might have figured out the Big Reveal at the end of the first act before we get beaten over the head with it. Instead the play goes for the big boom and shock, the “woah!” moments that surprise without really informing. Having the cat jump out of the closet and scare the hero at a tense moment is something you expect in the horror movie, but you can’t build the whole piece around it.

Antebellum, at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company through April 26th
641 D St NW
Washington, DC 20004

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


One thought on “We Love Arts: Antebellum

  1. We’re having a similar disagreement about this show over at my blog: http://www.districtbeat.com/2009/04/ill-tell-you-what-i-did-not-see-that.html

    I enjoyed the show. It’s not the best things I’ve seen but it is well done and fairly well written. My friend TK wrote a fascinating and thorough comment about why he did not care for the show. I’d say that Antebellum is a love-it or hate-it proposition. There does not seem to b a lot of middle ground. Then again, we are reviewers. It’s our job to have strong opinions. I’ll tell you what though, Woolly never ceases to inspire conversation. I’ll give them that.