Philly’s Curio Theatre Company presents contradictions at play with ‘Antagonyms’

If an “antagonym” is an English language word that has two opposing meanings, then a play by that same name should be a densely complex theatrical work with more twists than a bag of pretzels. First-time playwright Rachel Gluck and the rest of Philly’s Curio Theatre Company rely upon the catty thrill of the contradictory, an appreciation of film noir tropes and the dueling concepts of love and identity for “Antagonyms“. Four local actors (Alee Spadoni, Alexander Scott Rioh, Andrew Carroll, Colleen Hughes) portray two Philadelphia couples who go at each others’ throats, “and their weight around on stage for an hour or two,” says Gluck – a longtime Curio Company member – about characters trying to outrun their demons while hanging in West Philly dive bars and Hollywood back lots.

Why use that particular title and how can you link that name to actions and characters throughout the play?

So, antagonyms are words that have multiple definitions which contradict each other. A classic example is the word “cleave”, which means either to attach together or split apart. In a world of “Antagonyms”, all of my characters are really gifted at using language to obfuscate and deceive, and really bad at honest self-expression. More often than not they are not saying what they mean, and frequently they are saying the opposite. I’m also getting some mileage out of the root word, which is only semi-intentional. People frequently mis-remember the title as “Antagonisms” or “Antagonists”, which is okay with me. This isn’t a play about nice people.

How quickly did your rise through the ranks at Curio and what sort of company do you see or feel it to be?

This is my sixth season at Curio. Previously, my role has always been as an actor. This is the first play I’ve had produced. It’s always been like a family to me and a place that has really encouraged me to grow. It’s also a place that has grown with me. It seems like in the time I’ve been there every season has been an improvement over the last, and I can really see evidence of that in the way the community has been responding to us as well. I wrote this play a couple of years ago not really thinking about what its home would be. So, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found an artistic home where people have been enthusiastic about this play from the beginning.

Antagonyms has the feel of a modern/present day noir escapade. What sort of models did you have for that? Filmic inspirations such as “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, “The Last Seduction”, even the brand new “La La Land” come to mind.

Those are good examples. I’m a big fan of both modern and classic noir and have a lot of affection for the movie “Brick” because its approach to updating noir is having ridiculously stylized dialogue coming out of the mouths of modern characters. Rather than finding a way to make it fit in a modern setting the movie just says, ‘this is the tone. This is what we’re doing,’ and you just have to accept it so you can go on this fun ride. That’s not the balance I’m striking but it’s something along those lines. I like playing with the vocal cadence of old Hollywood films.

Your ideas about personal identity, gender and sexuality are all a part of this play. How do they creep into that noir setting?

Identity is important in the noir world, especially when you talk about classic noir. There’s a rigid formula for who your characters are and how they behave, and it’s very gendered. The most obvious example of this is the femme fatale, which is a fun, sexy female archetype that is also massively problematic to me as a woman and a feminist. As I was writing the play I naturally gravitated towards subverting that, and what I wound up imagining is a world with femme fatales and homme fatales, where everyone is the duper and the dupe. That meant I had to care about why everyone is the way they are in a way that traditional noirs often don’t.

So then, is “Antagonyms” a drama with fanciful fantasy elements or a fantasy with deep dramatic elements?

Hopefully it’s an even blend. We’re definitely in a heightened world, but my intention is to use that to explore meaningful emotional journeys that are grounded in reality.

“Antagonyms” opens Dec. 8 and runs until Dec. 17, Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Ave, in the Black Box Theatre. 8 p.m. $15-$25,

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