(guest review by T.E. Klunzinger)
Obviously in recent years I have missed a couple of things in the evolution of Modern Theater: first, the increasing use of Devised Theater, whereby you start with a basic script or concept and throw in whatever you can think of, such that every production of a given title is different; and second, you have the impulse to do a musical but the designated writer has no music (notes on a scale) to contribute, so you use rhythmic chanting, usually known as hip-hop, instead. (I understand “Hamilton” is very successful in this respect.)
“Xtigone” by the Chicago-based Nambi Kelley, MSU’s Global Diversity Play currently at the Auditorium Arena through this Sunday only, is the latest local example of these two trends. It helps a lot to read the preview articles in local media, so you come in knowing that this is an adaptation of the classic Greek play “Antigone” with which I am not familiar, now set against the gun violence of gang wars in Chicago, as this show is light on plot but heavy on allegory.
That said, an energetic multiracial cast brings this show to crackling life. Jenise Cook (late of Owosso’s “Ghost”) is the authoritative protagonist seeking justice for the murder of her brothers, breaking into song now and then. She is pitted against her uncle Marcellus, the earnest, ambitious, well-intentioned but clueless Mayor of the City played by Greg Hunter (one of the bright lights of January’s “And Away We Go.”) Hunter moves effortlessly between a high-toned politician and a faux-pastor leading a revival to rally the city behind him.
Teriah Fleming steals her scenes as the mayor’s lieutenant Le Roi, while Jacquese Steele impresses with her powerful singing voice (again, this is not a musical) as the mayor’s advisor Tea Flake. Kristy Allen provides strong support as the mayor’s seemingly stoic wife who is in truth the power behind the throne.
The rest of the dozen-plus cast functions mostly as Greek chorus, wearing matching black outfits emblazoned “Unearth the Truth.” Some of them play in the onstage three-piece ensemble, one of them plays “Summertime” on a saxophone and all of them excel at the choral chanting and foot-stomping choreography.
Again, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the written play and the interpolated contributions of director Shondrika Moss-Bouldin and her cast. Kelley is unsparing in her indictment of power structure, black or white. Much of the dialogue is in very real vernacular so the body mikes help. And the classic elements of Greek Tragedy are occasionally obvious, as with the Old Blind Seer and the somewhat over-the-top final scene. But overall, it’s certain you’ve never seen anything like this before.
Xtigone continues at MSU Arena Theatre Fri 4/1-8pm; Sat 4/2-8pm; Sun 4/3-2pm (with director pre-show discussion Sunday at 1:15 pm)
Buy tickets at the box office on the Farm Lane side of the Auditorium building, then go downstairs to the Arena
$13 general ($11 student/senior)