by Melissa Cooper
Directed by Dmitry Troyanovsky
Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory Production
Asolo Repertory Theatre Education and Outreach
Reviewed Oct. 8 at FSU Center for Performing Arts, Cook Theatre
Touring from Sarasota to Gulf Coast High Schools, Colleges, Public Venues
Itinerary, Booking at 941-351-9010, ext. 3306; Through mid-Nov., 2010

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

The heroine of Sophocles' Antigone--despite pleading from her sister Ismene, a probable break with fiancé Haimon, and threat of death, decides to bury her brother Polyneices. He and his brother Eteocles killed each other in a civil war over the right to govern Thebes.  Promising safety to its citizens, their uncle Creon took rule. Because he objected to Polyneices' shattering peace with his claim, however moral, Creon decreed honored burial to Eteocles but a law against same for his brother. Polyneices was to be left as carrion. Defying the law: punishable by death. No exceptions. Not for the intended bride of Creon's son Haimon. Nor when a prophet says the gods are against an immoral law or when Creon's wife  pleads. Throughout the play, a chorus comments on events-causes, effects, meaning.
Melissa Cooper's adaptation Antigone Now takes place in a modern city. Six of its citizens take the place of chorus. Newly emerged from horrific war, they want a normal, safe life and think it will be gained via Creon's strict laws and autocratic governing.  "The city is my life," he says. He thus regards Polyneices as a traitor to the city. No excuse exists for defying the law against his burial. Not family-his or the Oedipus clan. But that contradicts what the gods and certainly Antigone believe  is a moral obligation. More and more, citizens come to admire and agree with Antigone's conviction that she is right to bury her brother. Her sister overcomes fear to ask to join her in punishment (but she's made to survive).  For Antigone, obligation to family has been all important, and the individual member must not let a tyrant prevent it.
Missing in Cooper's one act are the seer who brings in the gods' point of view and predicts dire results from defying it. Her chorus-substitutes don't explain a city's citizens' duties to bury their dead warriors, a dictum that Thebes citizen Creon discards. Nor is brought out Polyneices' right to have assumed the throne from his brother, whose denial caused their conflict. Neither Haimon, who's deprived of his promised bride and thus line of royal heirs, nor Creon's wife Eurydice, who kills herself because Creon proved responsible for their sons' deaths, figure in Cooper's version of the Antigone myth. The omissions take away from Sophocles' greater clarity about the background of the Creon vs. Antigone struggle. In his play (as in Anouilh's and Brecht's modern versions), the dominant theme is the rights of individuals /citizens vs. a tyrant/ruler. Laws should protect the common good, manifest in the destiny of both ruling and common families.  Another missing fact: if Antigone was to die, it should have been in the open in the city. But Creon illegally  "renditioned" her away (so applicable to concerns today) to a cave, where she would die amongst the powerful of the underworld. 
Though Cooper's play tends to become predominantly a domestic tragedy, the roughness of its reliance on a small cast, a performance space rather than scenery, and only chairs as props suits typically modern intimate proceedings.  On Asolo Conservatory's first tour in 20 years, geared  especially to teen audiences, the production can adapt easily to different spaces. (That's also a plus for Conservatory students' training.)  On the Cook stage, white chairs were piled at start under intense white light in a center square marked off in red tape. Normal lights up, and the chairs were merged with others to seat commenting citizens on each side of the main actions or to be moved into a "chorus line" on the proscenium for direct address to the audience.  Indispensable sound (designed by Matthew Parker) not only underscores action and mood; contemporary music sets characterizations (i.e., jazz for Ismene).
Dimitry Troyanovsky's fast-paced direction benefits from Jimmy Hoskins' choreographing. Julia Kosanovich's citizens' costumes including boots are like those of "ordinary" European peasants or workers, except for the costume adaptable for a maid, nurse, worker that's worn by Lindsay Marie Tierce's versatile Chorus Leader.  Antigone's jeans tie her to the citizens, but her blouse and scarf as well as Ismene's slacks and dressier shoes suggest their upper social status. Creon appropriately wears white shirt, black pants-no color!  I'm not sure whether author or director called for the Leader to smear black stripes down Antigone's face, over eyes and mouth, but it's an inspired way to show her ultimately being sealed in death's darkness.
Troyanovsky's cast exhibit complete trust in his and Cooper's modern way with an ancient  drama. Devereau Chumrau couldn't be a stronger, more resolute heroine with courage that wins over people. Sympathy for Ismene's first desire for self-preservation ("You always choose life," says Antigone), then later admiration for her resolve to be with her sister is easily gained  by a caring  Kim Hausler. Though Danny Jones clearly tries to humanize Creon but without soft-pedaling his despotism, he might be a bit more stoic. He's rightly blocked out of the square of intimate action, entering that space only when it becomes a place of State where he stiffly makes pronouncements. Adam Carpenter, Angela Sauer, Ron Kagan, Will Little, and Alicia Dawn Bullen  as citizens move well and through practice should become  wholly articulate in solos, groups, and unison.
Melissa Cooper's highest achievement  here  may be stylistic.  Her poetic prose is both beautiful and accessible . Her vocabulary is up-to-the-minute; imagery,clear ;  tone, sensitive or powerful as appropriate. Whatever her plot omissions, getting what she tells into 45 minutes--as performed by FSU/Asolo Conservatory-impresses.
Stage Manager is Erin McDonald. Brian Hersh is Asolo Rep Education & Outreach Director.   

Return to Home Page

  • Road (National) Tour Review Index
  • New York City & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • Berkshire, Massachusetts Theatre Review Index
  • Boston Area Theatre Review Index
  • Florida Theatre Review Index
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul (Twin Cities) Theatre Review Index
  • Philadelphia & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Review Index
  • Seattle Area Theatre Review Index
  • Toronto, Ontario (Canada) Index