The "Antigone" of Jean Anouilh, adapted by Lewis Galantiere, is a curious but striking conglomeration of tragic legend, stylized modern staging, interpolated contemporary staging, and some of the most artificial dialogue heard in the theatre this season.
Anouilh uses the play of Sophocles for his plot. Had he left the original there and gone on to write a drama of twentieth century significance, with the frame of reference brought completely up to date, he would probably have produced a work of greater unity and consistency.
As it is, the play is neither a translation of the original nor well-done modern theatre. Guthrie McClintic uses a plain but forceful set modeled after a Grecian interior, but dresses every character in 1946 evening clothes: the lines are a strange admixture of sonorous, poetic speeches for the high-born--tragic figures in the Aristotelian sense--and lower-level American slang for the vulgar; Anouilh preserves the Greek hours, but transforms it into a single narrator reminiscent of "Our Town."
Anouilh ie most successful in a not unworthy purpose, the addition of a political motive to the traditional religious one for Antigone's acts. Antigone, in the version of Sophocles, was willing to die in order to bury her brother, to save him from the eternal torture which otherwise awaited his shade. In the present interpretation she funds, as the play progresses, other reasons, of equally high principle, why it is essential for her to die rather than compromise.
Her uncle Creon is her antagonist--Creon, as the Chorus says, the Chorus the ruler who loves to rule. At first she hates him because he has forbidden her brother's burial, but after one tremendous scene in which she withstands his every nuance of guile she realizes that his evil goes far beyond the personal level, and she dies for a greater cause than her first.
Creon as portrayed in this play is the archtype of the fascist leader--the man who says he took the wheel of the shop "only because it was sinking and somebody had to help." It is not difficult to see why the play was allowed to be performed in occupied France: the appeal of Creon is probably the stronger of the two to most audiences, conditioned as we are to politics over principle.
Katherine Cornell has the difficult role in "Antigone" and the Tyrant"--the role of unreasoning Antigone, moved by the emotions and not by the mind. She plays it with a skill that makes the part really Antigone, not Cornell, sacrificing most of the audience appeal she could have produced with a few slips from the rigid interpretation. Codrie Hardwicke, on the other hand, has a part to be envied in Creon, although this is not to say that he fails in any way to do it justice. Horace Braham as the Chorus is worthy of mention for his fine delivery of a touchy role, as is George Mathews for his portrayal of the First Guard, the part that contains most of the injected parody of modern life, an anachronism devoutly to be abhorred.
"Antigone and the Tyrant" is certainly not a completely successful play. It is an insufficient realization of some very high ideals--but the ideals are there, so are Cornell and Hardwicke, and so is an indefinable striking power which can fit only under Aristotle's definition of Spectacle. jal