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
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).
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
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'
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
(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
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
as citizens move well and
through practice should become
wholly articulate in solos, groups, and unison.
Melissa Cooper's highest achievement
may be stylistic.
Her poetic prose is both beautiful and accessible . Her vocabulary is up-to-the-minute;
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.
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