Saturday, April 3, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 251, A Review: "Antigone" (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)


By James V. Ruocco

"Now, Deaar Ismene, my own blood sister,
do you have any sense of all the troubles
Zeus keeps bringing the two of us,
as long as we're alive? All that misery
which stems from Oedipus? There's no suffering,
no shame, no ruin - not done dishonor -
which I have not seen in all the troubles
you and I go through. What's this they're saying now,
something our general has had proclaimed
throughout the city? Do you know of it?
Have you heard? Or have you just missed the news?
Dishonors which better fit our enemies
are being piled up on the ones we love."

The plotline for "Antigone," the celebrated Greek tragedy written by Sophocles in 441 B.C., goes something like this.

The title character, a brave, honorable and proud young woman, comes from a family background steeped in murder, incest, hypocrisy and deception.
Her father Oedipus, the King of Thebes, unknowingly murdered his father, married his own mother Queen Jocasta and had two daughters and two sons with her. But when Jocasta uncovered the truth about her incestuous relationship with her son, she killed herself. Oedipus, in turn, plucked out his eyeballs and spent his remaining years traveling throughout Greece with his loving and loyal daughter Antigone.
Once he died, his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices fought each other for control of Thebes. Fate, of course (a family curse, perhaps), intervened and both brothers died. Creon, Antigone's uncle, assumed the throne and became the official ruler of Thebes. But as "Antigone" begins, he decrees that Polynices will not be given burial rights (he wants his body to rot before the citizens of Thebes as a warning to traitors) and anyone who tries to bury him will be punished immediately by death.
Grieving the loss of her two brothers, Antigone decides to take matters into her own hands (her sister Ismene warns her not to disobey Creon), and give Polynices a proper burial. As the play continues, she is caught, thus, forcing Creon to eventually have her put to death for disobeying the laws of the city.

The intensity of Sophocles' scenario, its many rants and arguments, its eerie pronouncements and unisons and its ironic twists of fate come full throttle in Connecticut Repertory Theatre's vibrant and moody retelling of the "Antigone" story. Insightful and emotional, this production also unfolds with a menacing and well-defined mindset that respects its theatrical origins and traditions, the instinctive words of its playwright, the spirit and structure of the actual drama and the human feelings of all parties involved. Its natural, well-played connection between actor and audience only furthers that notion.

"Antigone" is being staged by Gary English whose CRT credits include "The Grapes of Wrath," "Olives and Blood" and "Man of La Mancha." Here, he crafts a meticulously urgent and informative work that is fundamentally clever, wondrous, personable and distinct in its meaning and overall interpretation. As director, he doesn't waste a moment. He doesn't get bogged down with the material. He also doesn't overplay the dramatic elements of the piece or allow the characters and the actors to be upstaged by the choices he makes or the manner in which they are presented in this production.

As with other CRT plays this season including the recent "This Property Is Condemned" and  "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," "Antigone" has been staged for at-home viewers using the Zoom process to full effect from edits, close ups and split screens to carefully thought-out backgrounds and visuals that add dimension, scope and color to the story as it plays out over its 1 hr. and 45 minute time frame. This visualization, reminiscent of the surreal, stylistic and unusual imagery of Belgian artist Rene Magritte works most advantageously in the story's telling and its on-screen conversations and pairings of the play's many characters and their individual story arcs. The use of boxed-in faces, framed faces or partially covered faces brings mystery, clarity and enquiry to "Antigone" as does English's use of background music, his employment of quick fades and start ups and his strategic thoughts and influences involving conceptual and minimalist art.

Throughout "Antigone," Sophocles' writing is rich, apt and poetic and blessed with the appropriate style and conviction necessary for the piece to take shape, do it justice and preserve its prurience, metaphors, enticing aesthetics and rhyming trimeters. It also reflects the political and social elements of the times, from family traditions and war to the varying aspects of religion, social position, expression and lingual authority. Here, as in "Oedipus the King" and "Electra," his weighty, fast-paced language responds agreeably to the dramatic needs of the moment and its noticeable use of tragic orthodoxy.

"Antigone" stars Samantha Seawolf as Antigone, Michael Curry as Creon, GraceAnn Brooks as Ismene, Mercedes Herrero as Tiresias, Amy Morse as Eurydice/Chorus, Casey Wishna as Messenger, Christopher Collier as Haemon, Jack Dillon as Polynices, April Lichtman as Chorus and Ethan Caso as Sentry.
Seawolf is a strong, defiant and dominant Antigone who respects and understands the words and thoughts of Sophocles' original work, its survival/sacrifice story arcs and its captivating, often daring observations and touches. Whenever she's front and center, it's impossible to take your eyes off her. As Creon, Curry smartly projects the character's strength, voice, demeanor and boldness. It's an effecting performance and one that immediately draws us into the story and the action with both absolutism and individuality. 
The supporting cast brings a sense of urgency and importance to "Antigone" that is well defined, placed and equally fulfilling. Well cast for their respective roles, they also connect with the language, the  different layers of the play and its vital, often edgy theatrics.

Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of "Antigone" is being streamed online, now through April 11. Performances are 8 p.m. April 3, 7:30 p.m. April 7 and 8, 8 p.m. April 9, 2 and 8 p.m. April 10 and 2 p.m. April 11. Tickets are  $10, $14 and $16. Event link and password will be emailed to you prior to the virtual performance. The box office is open 1 hr. prior to start of production. For additional information. call (860) 486-2113. 

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