Should you brush up on your classics to fully enjoy Javierantonio González’s luxuriously complex Open Up, Hadrian? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to know that Hadrian was the Roman emperor with the tidy beard and the big wall. But there’s no need to scramble for your Gibbon: González’s astonishing talent lies in saturation, in soaking our time in the ancient one and letting the stain set. In creating this opulent, delightful text, González absorbs a thousand images of Roman excess and turns them into their own genre—just as another might use and subvert the vocabulary of noir.
In Open Up, Hadrian, we’re between worlds, where a suit is a toga is a suit (costumer Elizabeth Barrett Groth deserves laurels), and where a very modern-sounding Hadrian (David Skeist) happily expects the best from his “manophiliac” relationship with his slave Antinous (Marcos Toledo). Skeist has infinitely sad eyes, but his Hadrian is upbeat—neither his drunken adoptive father Trajan (Luis Moreno) nor his sea-serpent pseudo-mother Plotina (Doris Mirescu) nor a revolt in Britannia can divert him from his quest to become the first humanist Emperor. Director Meiyin Wang makes stupendous use of the Magic Futurebox space, steering the excellent cast (and the roving audience) through a vast hollow of columns and echoing concrete. We listen outside the bathroom (Hadrian will not “open up”); we see him hunting in a forest of diagonal tubes; and we and the characters chase him down the long space until our hero can go no farther. With all due respect to Hadrian’s put-upon wife, Sabine, the best marriage here is between director and text—a seamless interplay of Wang’s cool aesthetic and González’s erudition, her elegant spaces and his looping, rococo conversation.—Helen Shaw