Before this play, I hadn’t been to the theater since last summer. The urge to go see a play comes and goes for me but when something special comes along, I can’t resist. Europa in de herfst, (literally translated: Europe in Autumn) by theater Malpertuis was special indeed.
The company is not at all new to me. I’ve heard the name before and I even think I might have been to one of their plays when I was in high school. Though I’m not entirely certain of that anymore. Either way they’re a well-established company celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and part of what they do (and do well) is revive classic plays and show their remarkable relevancy to our current political and social climate.
Europe in Autumn is a combination of 2 of Sophocles’ tragedies: Oedipus in Colonos and Antigone, which are presented to the audience in an almost minimalist decor made up of a large wooden stage-like structure featuring several conversation areas, including a literal pit. It strangely reminded me of my elementary school playground. The costumes were also quite minimalist but almost business-like with a lot of clean-cut trousers and blouses, almost all in neutral colors. This resulted in a very clean and light feeling that made it easy to see the connection with political and corporate life these days.
I was completely absorbed by the play from beginning to end, not being deeply familiar with either of the original tragedies did not, I feel, hinder me in understanding and enjoying this play, though I did have general notions of what each of the tragedies was about. The acting was very impressive. It was just restrained enough to make you want more while still getting the message across and providing comic relief every so often. Especially Georges Ocloo, who played Creon, did a stellar job.
Europa in de herfst does an amazing job of highlighting the complicated relationship between politician and civilian in current-day Europe. The lack of trust in both directions is painfully apparent as both parties are almost wrapped up in a cold war against one another.
The single spark of hope in this bleak worldview is Antigone’s act of compassion towards her brother. By acting out of love for him and demanding a humane treatment of his dead body, even if it costs her everything else, is inspiring. She teaches us not only that humanity is not quite lost, but also that one small act of compassion can make governments fall, if it’s the right act.
If you can understand Dutch and are able to make it to one of the performances, I highly recommend Europa in de herfst. For more information, check Theater Malpertuis’s website here.