Staff Writer/Fact Checker/Editor
Truth be told, I feel nervous every time I hear that a legendary play is getting a modernized adaptation. You can make the argument that updated versions allow for creative direction and audience accessibility, but I mostly find that they decimate the true essence of the original works. In the case of Jean Anouilh’s version of Antigone (adapted by Lewis Galantière) by the Greek tragedian Sophocles, while it does remain faithful to the source material in its insightful exploration of moral dilemmas, I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the changes somewhat distracting.
For those of you who haven’t had the benefit of reading Antigone in high school as I have, it is a Theban tragedy that centres on our eponymous protagonist (portrayed here by Kaya Bucholc) and her uncle Creon (Scott Moore), a tyrant who takes over Thebes after her brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, kill each other in the civil war fighting for the throne. Creon decrees that Eteocles be honourably buried, while Polyneices’ corpse is to be left to rot on the battleground for his rebellion. When Creon learns of Antigone’s attempts to bury Polyneices, they enter a livid moral dispute to determine which law bears more legitimacy: that of mankind, or that of divinity. Creon’s refusal to prepare for burial comes with dire consequences that he can only blame himself for.
The slight issue I have with this rendition is that the script is comprised of modern day vernaculars that have a tendency to cast moderate lightheartedness on the characters’ interactions. As a result, the significance of the play’s themes is undermined to a degree. The Guards, played by Erik Mrakovčić, Renée Awotwi and Patrick Fowler as well as the Nurse (Sara Stahmer) are a prime example of this, as their comedic antics overstay their welcome. Although I will admit that Mrakovčić is nevertheless amusing in his pleas with Creon to keep his job.
Bucholc is fairly disappointing in her depiction of our ill-fated heroine. Her voice emotes little emotion aside from her confrontation with Creon (which is very well directed), and her hand gestures are too reminiscent of a current generation teenager rather than a burdened princess. Moore, by polar contrast, plays a calmly intimidating Creon. His savage voice is enough to make chills run down my spine, and although he doesn’t always behave violently over the course of the play, you still believe he will strike at any moment. I also admire Moore’s poetic musing as he presents Creon’s persuasive logic and political rationality.
The Chorus (Amanda Cordner), in this version, acts as both the narrator and Creon’s conscience of sorts. She reminds me of the muses from Disney’s Hercules, although I really appreciate the fact that she doesn’t allow her imprudence to overpower her role as the voice of reason. She is also very entertaining with her suave moves. With all things considered, I give her performance a pass.
Carly Telford’s role as Antigone’s sister, Ismene, is what I think Bucholc’s portrayal should resemble. Telford is consistently emotional and outspoken. You know she would do anything to protect her sister from Creon’s wrath, yet wants her to consider the implications of her actions.
Some of my favourite scenes involve the cast’s powerful chant sequences, which truly establish a desperate atmosphere suited to a cataclysmic narrative. It really makes you fear impending calamity.
The same can be said for the set, courtesy of Teodoro Dragonieri. I felt as though I had been thrown into a torture chamber as soon as I had laid my eyes on the large ropes hanging from the ceiling and the large wooden pulley wheels. Alumnae Theatre definitely wins in the aesthetic department. The interpretive dance segments directed by Jane Deluzio are mystic and dramatic but need some polishing, as there are a couple clumsy bits.
The costumes, designed by Martina and Brianne Christensen, reflect the time period for the most part, consisting of tunics, tribal masks and armor. However, some of them were quite stylized, most notably Ismene’s sparkly red dress and the Messenger’s (Patrick Fowler) leather jacket. It breaks the immersion. That being said, Eleanor MacVeigh’s war paint is vibrantly gorgeous.
If you don’t mind fresh spins on influential literature, then you should be able to enjoy the production and all it has to offer. If you’re a Sophocles purist, however, you’ll probably want to skip this one.
Directed by Janet Kish and produced by Andrea Patreau, Antigone is playing until Oct. 3 at the Alumnae Theatre on 70 Berkeley Street. For ticket information, visit www.alumnaetheatre.com.