Let us leave Sophocles out of this. This is the Antigone of Jean Anouilh, who has as much right as anybody else to take and rework an old story in the public domain. If his Antigone is not the "Tragedy" he designated it, it is (even in the Lewis Galantiere translation) an intriguing, witty, almost moving work, written with the urbane tough-minded brilliance of which only the French seem to have the secret.
Under Liz Stearns' direction the performance is a good one, and Richard Smithies brings to it considerable brilliance of his own. "My part is not an heroic one," says Anouilh's Creon, but in Mr. Smithies portrayal he is at least deeply sympathetic. What, after all, is a competent, compassionate, conscientious king to do when his niece insists upon being executed? "... the work is there to be done," he says, "and a man can't fold his arms and refuse to do it. They say it's dirty work. But if we didn't do it, who would?" And he does, first defending his position eloquently and then suffering the conequences nobly.
Mr. Smithies is suited to this rhetorical, ironic drama; he knows how to shape a long speech for maximum effect, and how to deliver a comic line without breaking the tension of a serious scene. Antigone calls Creon a "cook" in the "kitchen of politics," but she cannot realize how a man can be unheroic and still a king; Mr. Smithies, in more than one sense, has the requisite authority. Perhaps Antigone is not supposed to be a play primarily about Creon and the problem of a professional monarch, but without twisting the script noticeably out of shape, Mr. Smithies contrives to be the most interesting person on stage.
Doris Lee Allen is the actress faced with the awesome responsibility of living up to Antigone's advance billing as the girl who would "Rise up alone against Creon, her uncle, the King." Tragic inevitability is embodied in Antigone, "the pride of Oedipus"; "Death was her purpose," and the matter of the burial of her rebel brother's body only a pretext. Miss Allen does a competent job, quite effective in quiet moments, but she is not heroic.
Certain performances in the supporting cast are not as one would have them, but the work of Joel Crothers, Kathrvn Humphreys, and Liz Stearns is eminently commendable. The Leverett House dining room remains the worst auditorium in the University, but the play and performance would make it worthwhile to overlook a setup considerably grubbier.
Not that Anouilh's long one-act is everybody's show. It dramatizes what Shaw called "moral passion," where as most people are more interested in the other kind. The action is kept resolutely offstage, and we are treated instead to long analyses of situation and motive. But the argument is intense and beautifully conducted, and it is as irrelevant to call the play "talky" as it would be to call a drama of the heavy-breathing school "action-y." The production would be a credit to any Harvard organization; when a critic thinks of chucking it altogether and retreating into Widener, it is occasions like this one that restore his wonted sanguinity about Harvard drama.