The handbill for Antebellum calls the production a “performance installation,” which is an apt description. It’s not exactly a play, even though the show features actors playing characters on a stage. The three characters are drawn from New Orleans history--a violent prostitute, a celebrated opera singer, and a riverboat gambler--but the style of the show seems descended from Eastern European experimental art, something hinted at by the theater troupe’s name, Gogol Annex.
Each of the characters in Antebellum seems trapped, both literally and figuratively. Literally, in the sense that none of them of move far from their designated spot on the stage, the prostitute and gambler on either side, with the opera singer towering over the center. Figuratively, in the sense that each character has become entrenched in a life that’s no longer appealing, as the prostitute’s rage turns murderous, the diva’s celebrity all-consuming, and the gambler’s debt inescapable. The actors’ soliloquies often overlap into a cacophony of voices, at times coming together in rhythmic refrains. In other moments, a single character takes the spotlight, each one exposing a fierceness that can’t be contained beneath the pleasantries of their exteriors.
The style of the show is unconventional, but the production is a stylish, polished product that can only be achieved by dedicated performers. The sets and staging mimic the confinement of the characters, and the costumes and props reflect the glorious decadence of antebellum New Orleans. In many ways, Antebellum is Fringe done right, as the show challenges audiences without sacrificing artistic integrity.
Read our feature article about Antebellum, with insight from co-creator and actress Leah Loftin.
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