by Melanie Lee · August 15, 2014
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat! Give us something good to beat!” chants a chorus of costumed sixth-graders. Do they mean to beat on a piñata full of candy—or on another kid?
Vestments of the Gods, a play with music, freely adapted by Owen Panettieri (book and lyrics) from Sophocles’ Antigone, and directed by Joey Brenneman, blends in some Chocolate War-ish elements, transporting the ancient Greek tale into our postmodern world of Harry Potter, 9/11, and cyberbullying.
Hoping to avert last Halloween’s disastrous brawl when one child mockingly dressed as another child, Principal Creon of Thebes Street Elementary School lays down the law: no costume may disparage another person or group. Annabelle and Hayden’s dress-up plans are skewered by the abrupt transfer of their favorite teacher, Mr. Neeces. Annie shows up in plain clothes. Hayden, in red velvet robe and multicolored scarves, declares himself “Jesus of Fabulous”. (Annie asks him, “What happened to being Hermione Granger?”) Lily Harper, as Alice in Wonderland, accuses Hayden of insulting her religion. Margot, dressed as a pink fairy, defends Hayden, while the other kids tease him with the F and H words for gay males. Enraged, Annie declares that she’s dressed as the Prophet Mohammed. She yells at Lily, “You’re insulting everyone with an evolved brain!” Annie wins a trip to the principal’s office, where Creon, dressed as a clown, pleads for reason, but she refuses to recant her costume choice.
When Ms. Mene, dressed as a witch, leaves her classroom, her students whip out their forbidden cell phones, photographing and texting about Hayden’s “gay Jesus”. Lily’s mother, PTA President Vera Harper, significantly dressed as the Red Queen, storms into Creon’s office demanding the end to “children dressed as terrorists.” Janitor Terry, as a genie in silver turban and sash, warns that he saw an oak tree carved with the words “Die Fag”. Annie ventures a dangerous question: “Why was Mr. Neeces fired?”
Erica Diaz shines as the stubborn Annie. Scott Schafer is sympathetic as the overwhelmed Principal Creon. Jennifer Cody portrays Vera with bluster and bossiness. Also giving good performances are Sean Bennett Geoghan (Hayden), Jennifer Lauren Brown (Ms. Mene), Sam Perwin (Mr. Neeces), Molly McKenna Dillon (Lily), Perri Yaniv (Terry), Elyssa Renee Ramirez (Margot), and the rest of the cast.
Costume designer Erin Michelle Routh delightfully dresses the Greek chorus of classmates in diverse costumes—devil, pirate, leopard, Robo-Santa, the Chewbacca-like Barf from Spaceballs. Routh underlines the significance of Vera’s garb—the Red Queen of a Red State—contrasted with Annie’s bright blue T-shirt. Elisabeth Svenningsen’s set design adds sweet touches of autumn and Halloween. The songs (lyrics by Panettieri, score by music director David Carl), while not memorable, are fun, as the fickle chorus reacts, celebrates, and attacks.
I like how Panettieri thematically blends in the precarious craziness of Alice in Wonderland, the varied reactive responses to a Jesus figure, and the “political correctness” of both Red and Blue. Later, I noted that rule-breaking that disturbs the status quo, such as changing the traditional image of Jesus, is cracked down upon, whereas rule-breaking that supports the status quo, such as texting rumors about a supposedly gay kid, is not. How Vigil-ant of the playwright.