Friday, January 09, 2004


Following a devastating battle, a woman mourns the death of her two brothers. Etoclese, who, despise a promise to do so, refused to hand the rule of Thebes to his brother, has been buried with full state honors. Polyneices, who challenged his brother for the right to rule, is left on the battlefield for the dogs to eat.

The woman is Antigone, daughter of King Oedipus. In defiance of the edict of her uncle, the new king Creon, who assumed the reigns of government on the death of Etoclese, Antigone resolves to bury Polyneices with the same dignity accorded his brother.

At the heart of Antigone is an ancient yet timeless conflict: the rights, and the rites, of the individual when they clash with the needs of the state. Creon, newly crowned with a war-torn state to heal, can't afford to have his authority challenged. Antigone insists on dignity for her slain brother. Because she challenges Creon, she must die.

Great principles are at stake here: the rule of the state versus the rights of the individual, human versus divine law and so forth. (“Because I’m the king, that’s why...”) Plenty of parallels can also be drawn, to our current situation in Iraq.

Jean Anouilh wrote his Antigone at the height of the German occupation of France. The play mirrors the predicament of the French people under Hitler at the time. Acme director Dave Burmester, in his notes for the young people’s production of this masterpiece of the modern French stage, is astonished that the Gestapo, who governed Paris in 1943, were willing to allow the play to be produced at all. Perhaps it was because they found the play’s arguments for dictatorship so convincing.

Whether you look on the play from the viewpoint of Creon, trying to establish his authority, or from the viewpoint of Antione, following her conscience and the law of the gods to bury her fallen brother, Acme’s production is certain to evoke discussion about where authority ends and responsibility begins.

The play, directed by David Burmester, is running at the Veterans Memorial Theatre through January 17. It is a visually dramatic piece, with set by Karlee Finch and David Burmester which is stark and effective. The opening red lighting and recorded music (Shostakovich?), along with the precise, militaristic entrance of the cast is stunning.

Maddy Ryen’s “Chorus” is the glue that holds the show together, bringing us up to date with the story to this point, introducing us to the characters, and setting the stage for the inevitable tragedy. She handles the role with the self-confidence of a seasoned actress.

As the determined heroine Antigone, Alicia Hunt took a bit to get into her role, but as she grew more confident, she gave a strong performance. Her lengthy dialog with Creon was a tour de force for both actors.

Andrew Conard was a marvelous Creon, always in control, the tortured king who wants to save his young niece, but cannot tolerate her defiance of his law.

Others shone in smaller roles, such as Stephanie Rickards as Antigone’s beautiful sister Ismene and Dara Yazdani as Haemon, whose love for Antigone also leads to his own death.

James Henderson, as the First Guard gave a very strong performance and brought comic relief to the tragedy.

The cast is rounded out by Genny Moreno as Creon’s page, Shannon Larson-Maynard as Eurydice, Laurel Cohen as the Nurse, and Eric Delacorte and Josh Toliver as guards.

Antigone is a classic Greek tragedy which is as modern as today. At its core, it is a family tragedy about human failings with which we can all relate. As to who is right and who is wrong, it is up to the individual viewer to make those decisions.

The play runs some 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Unfortunately two patrons sat in the row near me and talked audibly through most of the show, making it difficult to become immersed in the story itself because of irritation at the rudeness of these two people. Someone else in the theatre was playing with a mobile phone, whose LCD screen would flash at inappropriate times.

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