Writer: Saudamini Siegrist
Director: Myriam Cyr
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
The story of Antigone has been told, adapted, and retold since ancient Greece, but if you don’t know it from Sophocles or Anouilh, she’s happy to tell you from her own point of view. Playwright and poet Saudamini Siegrist’s powerful new adaptation, as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City, is clearly inspired by the history of the feminist and anti-war movements, plus the very present politics of our own time and place.
From the underground tomb where her uncle Creon, the king, believes her to have been buried alive, and across more than two millennia of human history, Antigone (played skilfully by Nicole Ansari) narrates her tale; a tale previously told almost exclusively by men. With the aid of a well-choreographed chorus of performers, we learn about her inauspicious beginnings as the daughter of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. She tells us about her brothers’ fight for the throne in the years after their father’s suicide, and the simultaneous fratricide that ended their own lives. In steps Creon—her uncle and the father of her suitor, Haemon (played by Jake Mathew)—to restore order to Thebes and respect to the crown. At least, that’s how he sees it. Creon’s first decree as Regent is to leave Antigone’s eldest brother Polynices to rot on the battlefield, while giving her brother Eteocles all the pomp of a royal burial. Antigone considers this a crime against the laws of nature, in addition to the personal slight involved, and she makes it her business to stand up for what’s right, against the power of the state.
Siegrist makes references in her script that have nothing to do with ancient Greece or with our current state. The intention appears to be the amplification of a universality across all times and cultures. There have always been states and there have always been those who oppose them. There have always been wars and there have always been those who need to convince the citizenry to support them. Unfortunately, the references are so scattered and seemingly random, e.g. a Theban guard with an Irish accent, that the reason is lost without more clarity of explanation.
Director Myriam Cyr does a fine job orchestrating the chorus and employing basic theatrical tropes to the production’s advantage, but this still reads as a work in progress. The large space isn’t utilized well, with visibly open wing space going unused until the very end, when the actors finally stand against the far walls. Polynices is portrayed throughout the entire production by Logan Pitts, except for the one instance when suddenly he’s a guard named Bruno and one of the other performers is the corpse, right before Pitts becomes Polynices again. There is a moment partway through the production when Antigone is no longer the narrator; her sister Ismene is. And then it flips back with Antigone continuing to narrate and address the audience, with no clear need for the switch. That said, Leovina Charles as Ismene is delightful and it’s a shame we don’t see more of her.
There are other issues to be taken with this play (for example the use of light-years as a measure of time, which is simply incorrect), but overall this is an extraordinarily relevant piece, and its strengths outweigh its flaws. The exploration of loyalty to the state over loyalty to what’s right, and the compulsion placed upon the audience to go out into the world and serve as truth-tellers, make the occasionally awkward or overly didactic moments easily forgivable. Though Antigone opines that “we never learn,” one leaves the theatre inspired to prove her wrong, by doing right. Resistance is not futile.
Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Wai Wing Lau