by Jean Anouilh
Directed by Chris Abraham
 Young Centre for the Performing Arts
Through October 17th

Reviewed by Robin Breon

Soulpepper's decision to produce the Jean Anouilh adaptation of Antigone was apparently a fallback choice after initial attempts to produce a new adaptation based on the original play by Sophocles (also an adaptation after the ancient Greek myth) proved to be unsuccessful.

Whatever the reasons behind this decision, what is apparent on the stage of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts is that there is still some kind of search going on with regard to what this story is all about.  Yes, the dynamics of a young woman standing up to an authoritarian ruler is still very much in place but within a context that meanders and never really hits home dramatically. One has to hold on to the fact that Anouilh's play was first produced in February of 1944, six months before the collaborationist Vichy regime in German occupied France came to an end with the liberation of Paris in August of that year. The playwright himself had done his best to "remain neutral" during the War years and some have suggested that this moral ambiguity is to be found in the play as well.

I have seen Liisa Repo-Martell (who plays the title role) in a number of Soulpepper productions over the years and whether it's Anton Chekhov or Caryl Churchill, you always kind of have to buy into her style as an actor. The brooding, subliminal qualities she brings to her work - the repressed emotion, the furrowed brow- are all a part of how she approaches a role. So don't expect a traditional approach to Antigone  by way of a defiant young confident woman, with shoulders thrown back and rebellious head held high. With Repo-Martell it's more a round-shouldered, pouting, goth-girl quality that seems to be the driving emotional dynamic that underlies her approach to the role.

This neurotic compulsive take is fine if you want to play Creon as more of a psychiatrist than a militarist and herein lies a problem for R.H. Thomson who gives us a more macro-traditional Creon that we all recognize; Col. Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men here to tell us all that "we can't handle the truth" when it comes to quelling the more unruly aspects of civilized society. It feels like Thomson (a commanding and compelling presence with his portrayal of Creon), is in one play while Repo-Martell is in another.

The problem may very well be more directorial than dramatic. Chris Abraham simply seems out of his depth with a play and a cast that lurches rather than sails. Poor Jeff Lillico, in the wonderfully nuanced role of the Guard who expounds on his job description and the kind of ass-kissing a soldier must do to move from one rank to the next, is pitched so high at the beginning of the play that he has nowhere to go. David Storch is very good in his role as Chorus and in fact explicates the proceedings just as the playwright intended. Pity that the director didn't just listen and take notes on the character and plot description so clearly laid out by Chorus and just follow the playwright's recipe for how the whole thing is supposed to go.

With the coming of September there is always that feeling of renewal and Soulpepper has just announced an ambitious 2010 season with 12 productions that continues its mandate of mixing classical and modern work, this year with an emphasis on including outstanding Canadian plays. Remounts from past seasons include the critically acclaimed Billy Bishop Goes to War, A Raisin in the Sun, Glengarry Glenn Ross and A Christmas Carol. In addition, audiences can look forward to Oh, What A Lovely War! by Joan Littlewood and Charles Chilton, Faith Healer by Brian Friel, Waiting for the Parade by John Murrell,  Jitters by David French,  A Month in the Country by Ivan Turgenev, What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton, Doc by Sharon Pollock, and Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller.

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