A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Antigone"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Larry Stark

"Antigone"

Adapted from Sophocles by Richard McElvain
Directed by Daniel Gidron

Original Music by Dewey Dellay
Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield
Lighting Design by Kathy Peter
Costume Design by Jacqueline Dalley
Multimedia Design by Dorian Des Lauriers
Sound Design by Dewey Dellay
Production Manager Dawn DesLauriers

Guard/Chorus..........................Ed Peed
Antigone.....................Marianna Bassham
Ismene/Chorus..................Jessica Burker
Polynices/Messenger/Chorus.........Eric Mello
Tiresias/Chorus.............Sylvia Ann Soares
Boy................................David Kaim
Cassie/Eurydice/Chorus.........Donna Sorbello
Walker Dance/Chorus...............Jim Spencer
Creon........................Richard McElvain

I've been told that, long ago in some Attic somewhere, some Greek called Thespis stepped out of the Chorus of a show and engaged in conversation with the Chorus Leader. Apparently the Greeks in the audience called that conversation Dialogue, and deified Thespis as the inventor of theater.
Well, yesterday afternoon I watched six outstanding actors step from the Chorus into Character to challenge a country's leader on the wisdom of his laws. Their text was adapted by Richard McElvain, playing that leader in what became not just an "adaptation" of Sophocles' "Antigone" but a whole new, gloriously moving play that could be called "The Tragedy of Creon, King of Thebes". Done in modern dress and modern speech with unavoidable references to contemporary politics by the still homeless Nora Theatre Company in B.U.'s Boston Playwrights' Theatre where it will be performed until 3 October. It is gripping, brilliant theater, and there isn't much time left for you to buy a chance to see it.

Creon's problems start with being the brother-in-law of King Oedipus --- and most people must have seen or read a play about him! What people may not have seen or read is another play called "Seven Against Thebes" in which the two sons of Oedipus fought a bloody civil war over which should rule, killing each other and leaving poor Creon to sweep up the pieces and restore order. In his first "State of Thebes Address" --- done here as a press-conference --- he decides to bury one warring brother as a loyal patriot, condemning the other to be eaten, unburied, by dogs. But Antigone, who may have inherited a tendency toward willful arogance from Oedipus, is caught performing perfunctory funeral rites over her dishonored brother --- and Creon's edict demands her death. She insists the she obeys the laws of Gods not of men, and that is almost always the motor that makes Greek tragedies so intense --- and, frankly, as fresh as today's headlines.

Probably the biggest compliment that can be paid to this cast is that every time one of them comes onstage with a different costume --- even Sylvia Ann Soares changing her headband to become Tiresias --- each one becomes a completely new person. (Maybe Director Daniel Gidron had something to do with that!) Ed Peed does a delightful comic turn as a guard trying to cover his ass when reporting that someone has buried Polynices' body. Jessica Burke is Ismene, trying to caution her sister that defiance of men's laws will be a deadly mistake. AndEric Mello is an equally cautious Messenger who, in trqagic terms, must report the suicides of Antigone and her betrothed Haemon, Creon's son, and of his wife Eurydice.

Mello also plays the shade of Polynices, comforting his condemned sister with the news that in the Underworld the only question is "How well did you live your life?" Donna Sorbello's Eurydice, learning the horror of her son's death, then strides offstage to her own in an eloquently stunning silence.

It falls to Jim Spencer's Haemon to tell his inflexible father that the people of Thebes themselves Creon's edict, designed for their welfare, is unwise and unfair --- and later, as the limp, gore-stained body his father carries on stage, Spencer himself speaks volumes with his inert silence. But it is Sylvia Ann Soares' Tiresias who tells him --- too late --- that the Gods themselves agree with the people, condemning the king to bloody tragedy.

But these re-costumed star-turns stand in bold relief against these actors' work as ensemble. Their Chorus, dressed in spotless suits and ties, are the leader's entourage --- supporting, discussing, and at last guardedly questioning his inflexible law. There are snatches quoted from other places (Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" for instance), bitten sentence-fragments, bits of contemporary speech, and parts occasionally sung to Dewey Dellay's effectively atonal original music. They fuse Greek tragedy to the contemporary tragedy unfolding over CNN and WBUR. Let's hope we learn their lesson.

The keystone conflict here is between Marianna Bassham's defiant Antigone and Creon. Here her flint and his steel strike their sparks in contemporary terms of intense human stubbornness on both sides. Shut in a cave to starve she, at least --- in her bright orange jump-suit --- comes to terms with her fate. It's Richard McElvain's king, bending far too late to reason, who is --- and properly so --- the tragic figure here. This is Boston's consummate tragedian at full-volume, from irked autocrat to stricken humility, his hands bathed in his only son's blood.
What a piece of work is ... this actor!


"Antigone" (16 September - 3 October)
THE NORA THEATRE COMPANY
Boston Platwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA
1(617)353-5899


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