by Sophocles,
Adapted by Richard McElvain
Directed by Daniel Gidron
Nora Theatre Company at Boston Playwrights' Theatre
949 Comm. Ave, Allston MA / (617) 491 - 2026
Through Oct. 3

Reviewed by Will Stackman

The last play chronologically in the Oedipus cycle, Antigone was the first part of the legend Sophocles dramatized. The text remains a remarkable piece of playwrighting, but most translations lack the force of the original as they attempt to deal with the intricacies of the original verse and the formal structure of agon and strophe. This version, adapted by Richard McElvain, award-winning actor, director, and playwright, makes no pretense at hewing to more than Sophocles' scenario. The language, like the costuming and acting, is contemporary, though the result has sometimes surprising resonances from its source. McElvain takes the leading role of Creon himself and once again proves his worth, portraying a flawed politico, driven beyond common sense by his desire to finally set the legendary city-state of Thebes straight after the disastrous reign of his brother-in-law Oedipus, and the revolt which pitted the latter's sons against each other.

The title role is played by Brandeis MFA Marianna Bassham, who appeared as Marianne with McElvain in "Tartuffe" at the New Rep. She brings a creditable intensity to the role in her single minded intent to carry out the requisite funeral rites for her younger brother Polynices. He'd brought an Argive army against the city and died in combat with his older brother, who was also killed. Creon decreed that the younger man should be left exposed and unburied, an offense against custom and the gods for which the current ruler would pay dearly. Polynices' shade shows up in this production to welcome his sister to her fate as Antigone makes her final exit into the cave where she is to be entombed. This scene is the most important addition to the original script, emphasizing the girl'd devotion to her family and making her end potentially peaceful. Just as all politics is local, all tragedy is ultimately family.

Exploring the original subject of the play, political tyranny, in a modern context was the impetus for this production. However, McElvain and director Daniel Gidron, an Isreali-born member of the Brandeis theatre faculty, soon discovered that the dramatic focus of Greek tragedy is on personal loss in the context of the hubris of power, and that the old saw about Absolute Power is unfortunately as true as ever. To this end, they use the chorus quite creatively. Each member, seen primarily as Creon's sycophantic staff in the modern political sense, plays minor roles of the drama. Jessica Burke,noticed last season in "Under Milk Wood" is Ismene, Antigone's younger sister, while Donna Sorbello, a veteran local actress and recent playwrighting MFA at B.U. plays both Cassie, Creon's personal assistant and his doomed wife, Eurydice, seen after her suicide as a silent shade during the finale. Jim Spencer, nominated for an IRNE for his role last season in Ed Bullin's "City Preacher" is Haemon, Creon's son and Antigone's fiance, while veteran character actor Ed Peed becomes the almost comic guard who brings the first news of Antigone's defiance to her uncle. Rhode Islander, Sylvia Ann Soares, a widely-traveled actress, predicts Creon's ultimate downfall as Tiresias, the blind prophet, bringing a shamanistic intensity to that role. Eric Mello plays both final messengers, as well as the shade of the rebel Polynices. These six--or sometimes five--are effective as the chorus, presenting McElvain's short free verse interpretations of Sophocles' commentary on the action, sometimes with musical undertones. The music and sound design for the show was created by jazz composer Dewey Dellay, whose work has been heard and recognized in a number of productions around town.

The last major production of this classic, across the river at the ART, went for spectacle and a post-modern expressionist set, with the chorus making their first entrance masked on stilts. On the smaller frieze stage of Boston Playwrights' Studio A, the show is backed by Brynna Bloomfield's architectural abstraction with open-work just in front echoing the backdrop. To stage left, a suggestion of a graffitti-covered cement block wall suggests the rest of the city. A red revolving police light and a sweeping spot in the dark open the show, implying the state of civil unrest, is an effective start to Kathy Peter's lighting design. Jacqueline Dalley's modern dress sets the period, providing variety as the Chorus changes between their minor roles and corporate uniforms. Performed without intermission, the pace has the appropriate inevitability, proving once again that reported disaster can be more effective than showing the "real" thing. Nora Theatre continues its seventeen year tradition of bringing unique drama to Boston Stages. The company currently has a major fundraising campaign to complete a new theatre space in Cambridge which they will share with the Underground Railway Theatre.

Across town at the BCA, the Animus Esemble played two weekends of "A Memory of Salt", Bates professor Lisa Maurizio 's adaptation of Euripides' "Hecuba" with elements from Japanese Noh drama added. This interesting synthesis, directed and choreographed by Animus' John Ambrosino was performed on a stage of raked sand using three modern dancers as the Chorus while four musicians playing an Oriental-inspired score composed by Sachi Sato. The three main roles, echoing the traditional form were the Ferryman, Lampros, played archly by Robert Bonotto, Mia Anderson's dignified Hecuba, queen of devasted Troy, and Odysseus, the final cause of the citiy's downfall, given an almost samurai interpretation by Gus Kelley. Two minor characters were Lampros' young son played by Khalil Fleming and Adam Winegarden as Helenus, Priam's son, a Trojan priest.

This strong multi-racial cast was appropriate to Animus' world fusion theatre goal, combining in this case the fatalism of both Greek tragedy and the Noh tradition. This is the second, and probably not the last, collaboration between the author and this group. We can expect to see more reinterpretations of ancient tragedy from various groups, as the theatre goes back to its roots to deal with an increasingly troubled and fractious world.

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