If a person were to pick up a copy of “Antigonick,” by Anne Carson, the cover will say it is a translation of Sophocles’s “Antigone.” The script of “Antigonick,” however, is more than a translation; it is an interpretation intertwined with artistic renderings, an odd mix between a graphic novel and a lyrical retelling—more a contained, visual experience than a traditional read. For those reasons, the text does not exactly lend itself to a theatrical production. However, Ianthe Demos, this year’s Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club visiting director, is able to capture successfully the eccentricities of the text through her brilliant direction, which is reinforced by her actors’ admirable commitment to their roles.
The premise of the play is simple enough. Antigone (Laura J. A. Trosser ’16), the daughter of Oedipus, buries her brother’s body, although it is decreed unlawful, and Kreon (Max R. McGillivray ’16), the king of Thebes, sentences her to death. Each character is inextricably connected to another, and each action comes to affect the life of another character. Demos’s staging highlights the interconnectedness as the characters move together. When Kreon and Antigone debate about the tenets of justice they walk in opposition to each other: when Kreon moves left, Antigone moves right and so forth. The characters are not independent, for they are subject to fate, and their movement hints at this by not being entirely under their control. When Eurydice (Mariel N. Pettee ’14) is revealed, she is strapped to a white wall, spread like a starfish. She is a true victim of her circumstances, and so she is incapable of action and cannot engage, at least initially.
“We are standing in the nick of time,” says the Chorus after Tiresias prophesizes Kreon’s ruin. Time is like a viper in Demos’s “Antigonick”; it strikes quickly and effectively, leaving its victim wounded as it slithers away. A decision made in a split second can lead to disastrous consequences. The use of sound best indicates the disjointedness and ephemerality of time by giving it a sonic presence. In the scene where Kreon and Antigone are arguing about justice, the sound of a clock’s tick-tock accompanies their movement, simulating the hands of a clock. A sharp slicing sound, quick and vicious, indicates scene transitions, and the quietness afterwards is treated with reverence. Sound also punctures and emphasizes words. “Antigone is a person in love with the impossible,” complains Ismene (Alona Bach ’16), Antigone’s sister. The ball that they pass to each other in many of the scenes is thrown with more force on “impossible,” giving it a poignant resonance. In a landscape of silence, these sharp instances of sound carry the words of the play.
The play excels in contrasts, highlighting the absurdity of Antigone’s situation as well as the emotional highs and lows. The set design by Daniel J. Prosky ’16 particularly brings this out: it is distinctly desolate with its bluish-gray tones and sparse set pieces. At the center of the stage lies a circle that can be separated into smaller pieces, and surrounding that are broken parts of walls. The stage is at the same time contained and open, an effect created by both the set design and the the lighting by Max B. Schaffer ’17. At a particularly climactic scene, Kreon races to retrieve Antigone from her death sentence, and the play oddly devolves into a rendition of Judy Garland’s “Get Happy.” The hue of the stage becomes red, contrasting with the previous blue, and the cast crowds the stage’s empty space with dance. This stark emotional switch highlights the apparent wrongness of Antigone’s situation—the contrast in staging and lighting is sometimes drastically different from scene to scene.
McGillivray and Trosser’s successful interpretations of their characters help underscore the emotional gravitas of the play. It is not that either actor brings a particularly unique take to their respective characters, but that they fine-tune and master each character’s most salient traits to perfection. McGillivray’s Kreon is every bit the man-child king, full of the rage and vice that the part calls for. Likewise, Trosser’s Antigone is proud and valiant as she discusses Hegel and clashes with Kreon over the injustice done to her brother.
Demos’s rendition of Carson’s “Antigonick” is dense and probably requires another viewing to gather all of its intricacies. This is not a fault, but rather a testament to the play’s success in bringing the richness of the text to stage. Retaining its classic roots while being innovative in its own right, Demos’s “Antigonick” is a crowning achievement.
—Staff writer Neha Mehtrotra can be reached at email@example.com.