Thursday, October 15, 2009

ASU "Antigone"

Guest Reviewer:
Fiona Macleod is a professional actor who is currently the Artistic Director of the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs, AL. She is the former Head of Theatre at Huntingdon College, and holds an MFA in acting from the University of Alabama/Alabama Shakespeare Festival Graduate Acting Program.

Raising one of the several laughs last night at the Leila Barlow Theatre, with his comment, "We're not a particularly affectionate family, are we?" King Creon [Jerrel O'Neal] to his neice Antigone [Parnesha Ingram] reflects on why she should be executed, and ponders how it can be avoided.

We know Antigone comes from a renowned dysfunctional family and has seen her share of tribulations. When her father discovered that he'd killed his father before marrying his mother and begetting his own sibling children, Dad, King Oedipus, gouged out his eyes, and Mum committed suicide. Antigone's two greedy brothers began a civil war that ended with their corpses locked in battle. That particular image climaxed the striking opening of ASU's one and a half hour short, one act production of that Greek tragedy, originally written around 441 BC.

Not exactly Sophocles' "Antigone", Dr. Tommie Stewart chose to use an interesting modern adaptation by Lewis Galantiere of the French playwright Jean Anouilh's version. Then with the help of faculty newcomer to ASU, Shaneesa Sweeney, and student actors, they edited that notoriously long play down to the energetic production that is on the boards until October 17.

Galantiere's version isn't about Antigone's choice between human and divine law, as Sophocles' was, but about the conflict between integrity and compromise, touching on issues such as family loyalties, religious beliefs, civil disobedience and gender inequity.

So, choosing this modern script, the production team could have placed this play in any time frame. Instead, they decided to remain within the classic Greek era. This allowed the ideals to remain and the exciting costumes by Ramona Ward to lend flair to the physicalization and choreography by the students of the Theatre Department who consistently brought a good deal of intensity and great charm to the drama.

In the beginning, the performance is driven by exciting music, accompanied by the keening of the chorus dancers. They pull us into the action by entering through the audience to mourn over the empty thrones and grieve as the brothers fight to the death on a platform that overshadows the classic Theban set by Alton England. Shadows of the fight flung on the cyclorama, the image of the remaining dead body picked over by vultures, and then the heroic broken-hearted Antigone trying to honor her dead, despite her knowledge that the punishment for shoveling even a thin layer of earth over the carcass is death, remains with us as the play's characters and action is skillfully taken over by Chorus.

Flanking an interesting picture of Creon's court, Stephanie Adams and ElPaso Williams confidently playing Chorus, present the characters and situations we will confront. Like the sonnet at the beginning of "Romeo and Juliet", Chorus gives us all the facts. Allusions to Shakespeare subtly appear through this script and resulting action.

That the dead body remains above the action on stage to be revisited at various points in the play, is an ever-present reminder of where our choices can lead us.

Guided by James Knight's lighting design and the impassioned performances of Antigone [Parnesha Ingram] and Creon [Jerrel O'Neal], presented as a rational, complex man, the play quickly grabs our attention. Every actor on stage takes his or her moments in stride. Articulate and strong performances by Haemon [Andrew Preston], Guard 1 [Quincy Rucker in a humorous takeoff of Dogberry from "Much Ado"] involve us throughout the evening. In this production, Guards 1, 2, and 3 echo the comedy of Shakespeare with a liberal dousing of the Keystone Cops.

Ismene, sweetly portrayed by freshman Janaye Rogers gives the "too little too late" support to Antigone as she continues her struggle to have their brother successfully laid to rest. I found Eurydice [CharaieCelia Hamilton], Creon's wife, constantly "knitting", to be a regal presence making the most of her few lines, and observing with the intellect of a wise thoughtful woman. Her image reflected Mme. Defarge in "A Tale of Two Cities" again reminding us of revenge and death. The Nurse [Monece Starling] gives a sterling performance as an aging and fond servant.

Several of the actors frequently directed speech to the audience, giving a stilted presentational quality to the work which reminiscent of Greek theatre is understandable, but with the use of modern jargoned language, a more realistic approach could perhaps also have been enjoyable.

All in all, this was a night at the theatre to be enjoyed and mulled over. It is one that deserves to be discussed for its content: politics, civil responsibility, and principles. Last night, I witnessed a production that Dr. Tommie Stewart staged with abundant creative dexterity. She, her faculty and students should be proud, and as an audience member you probably would more than enjoy the experience. Last night's plentiful audience seemed to agree with me. Take the time to enjoy that passage through time to reflect on old themes which sadly remain with us today.