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Tuesday, 05 November 2013 10:36

‘Antigone,’ or the heavy burden of Oedipus’ daughter

Written by Tina Farmer
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‘Antigone,’ or the heavy burden of Oedipus’ daughter
tesseracttheatre.org

If there are any broad lessons to be learned from Jean Anouilh's "Antigone," they may be that history can be a bitch and tragedy runs in families. The play is decidedly more complex than those themes, however, and Tesseract Theatre's production demonstrates this complexity in its season-opening production.

Antigone is not simply the story of a young girl; it is a cautionary tale about family and power and politics. The show opens after Oedipus' death, and the subsequent death of his two sons, leaving only Antigone and her older sister, Ismene.

Oedipus sons chose to fight each other for control of the kingdom rather than sharing rule as Oedipus decreed. Creon, Antigone's uncle and the father of her fiancée Haemon, is now the king.

In an attempt to prevent a citizens' uprising, he has declared one brother a hero and the other a traitor, not worthy of burial. He has posted guards around the decaying body and publicly declared he will execute anyone who tries to bury the corpse. Antigone is determined to bury her brother, though she is keenly aware that she will be put to death as a result of her rebellious action.

Anouilh's play is a richly layered interpretation of this tragic story, considering ideas of loyalty, the importance of religion and ritual as a means of controlling the masses, and the inherent bureaucracy of politics. Written during the 1940's, the play also explores the struggle of authority and autonomy in a dictatorial society. The script is beautifully constructed and the language a pleasure to your ears, which can often create difficulties for the actors.

Tesseract Theatre's production largely succeeds, particularly with the language. The actors are confident in their lines and diction; and it is not at all difficult to understand them, even in the less-than-ideal acoustics of the performance space. With its clear, direct presentation, those unfamiliar with the legacy of Oedipus will still find the story easy to follow.

Krystal Stevenson, as the Chorus, opens the show with breezy exposition. Her demeanor is light and friendly as she spells out the tragedy that is about to unfold. She approaches the part with the flair of a master of ceremonies, setting the scene at crucial moments and explaining the characters and their relationships with ease.

Bre Johnson's Antigone is strong, stubborn and stoic in her portrayal of the young girl resigned to certain death. She fully embraces the vitality of Antigone and is all action and ideals, not yet tempered by age or experience. Johnson creates a sympathetic character, and demonstrates the folly of Antigone's youth with deliberate grace.

Garrett Bergfeld, as her uncle Creon, is in the unenviable position of being cast as the villain, despite his every attempt to circumvent his edict and save his niece and future daughter-in-law. Bergfeld turns in a typically strong performance that anchors the production. The other actors respond to his lead and the show is at its best when he is on stage.

Rebeca Davidson, as the Nurse, is perhaps the most sympathetic and endearing character in the show. Her affection for Antigone and her sister is palpable and she nearly broke my heart with her concern. Mitch Eagle, Sidney Daniels, Christine Chase, and Reece Walters also turn in effective performances in supporting roles.

Unfortunately, at times the actors seem more focused on their diction than the story they are telling. The result is a paucity of emotional depth that could have taken this production to a much higher level.

Rudimentary staging issues are also present throughout. I don't know if this is a limitation of the space or a conscious choice by director Taylor Gruenloh, but I found it frustrating that so many of the lines are delivered in profile as the actors are, literally, standing in straight lines on the stage.

A curtain opener, "For Annie's Sake," featuring Jayden Reign and Dorian Rozanski, precedes "Antigone." This short play explores the relationship between a young soldier and her stay-at-home husband, and is an interesting choice to open the show.

In retrospect, I see Reign's character as a contemporary expression of the strength and determination seen in the young Antigone. Perhaps alluding to the themes in "Antigone," this brief interlude offers no easy answers, as reflected by the couple's cautious embrace to close the performance.

I applaud Tesseract Theatre for the choice of material and the strong statement it makes, and I look forward to more shows from this young company. Fans of language will appreciate the craft and subtleties of Anouilh's writing and the company's commitment to the spoken word.

"Antigone" runs through November 10, 2013 at the performance studio in the Regional Arts Commission center. For more information, visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.

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