A Revamped Antigone
Directed by Dan Berwick
At the Loeb Experimental Theatre
HRDC's new production of Sophocles' Antigone is a bit overwhelming at first, beginning with a confusing torrent of voices and pantomimed scenes. What is important to understand is that Sophocles' classical Greek play has been transferred to Civil War-era Maryland, a border state and thus the most likely locale for the background story of the tragedy. Two brothers, sons of Oedipus (yes, that Oedipus), fight each other to the death, one brother killing the other and then dying from a bullet wound. Creon, the governor of Maryland (Edie Bishop '00) has declared that the Union Army brother will be buried with honor while his Confederate brother is left to rot. Creon's niece and the soldiers' sister, Antigone (Sabrina Howells), however, is determined to bury both brothers in spite of the edict and the protest of her sister Ismene (Jacelyn Huberman '01). The conflict between the obstinate Creon and her equally determined niece is at the heart of this work.
The play is titled Antigone, but the real protagonist is the governor Creon. Bishop takes the role and plays it to the hilt. Her Creon is just this side of crazy: she is inflexible, imperial (ironically so considering she supports the Union and "liberty"), wrathful and utterly compelling. The other actors seem to feed off of her unreasonableness, engaging the viewers as they desperately attempt to get her to compromise. "A foe is never a friend, even in death," she declares. Although Antigone knows in advance the consequences of her actions, stating her loyalty to the dead and her willingness to die for her actions, one feels completely sympathetic towards her at the expense of Creon. As Howells plays her, she is a very young woman who has no real idea of what she has gotten herself into, guided by a firm belief in the rightness of her convictions. In the opening scene and when interacting with Creon she is almost like a rebellious teenager, nervous but defiant in the face of adult authority; though her battles have higher stakes than the average adolescent's. In a more humorous vein, B.J. Novak '01 is quite funny as a Union soldier--perhaps the original "bearer of bad news"--who stutteringly informs Creon of her Confederate nephew's burial. He later eagerly delivers Antigone to Creon, declaring his innocence in the burial as he does so.
The play rapidly establishes a tone of high emotion which is sustained throughout the whole of the production. The actors are aided in this by effective, movie soundtrack-like music at crucial points. The slight distancing effect of the music is countered by the characters' frequent exhortations to the audience, made especially effective in a small theater like the Loeb Ex. As the play heads towards its catastrophic ending, and Creon receives a come-uppance beyond his wildest nightmares, there is a brief moment in which the General (David Modigliani '02) reflects on the horrors of the Civil War. He describes seeing dead soldiers' bodies on the ground, futilely lamenting that he never expected to see a sight so gruesome. The play's main focus is on the personal misfortunes of the House of Oedipus. Ultimately, though, it reaches out to a larger historical epoch and brilliantly describes the horror of all wars. The arrival of the Advisor (Karin Alexander), interrupting the speech signals the beginning of the denouement of the play; it reproduces on a individual level the horrific, senseless violence that the general recalls in his soliloquy.