A tragedy for all times

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

In the early days of live tele­vi­sion, plays such as Jean Anouilh’s 1942 adap­ta­tion of Antigone, Sopho­cles’ clas­sic tragedy, were some­times broad­cast in one con­tin­u­ous shot, with the cam­era trav­el­ing on a track into and out of scenes, while the ac­tors, who were of­ten scat­tered around a large sound­stage, waited on their marks for their mo­ment to speak.

David Ol­son’s The­ater­work pro­duc­tion of Anouilh’s play is a lot like that, ex­cept the sound­stage is an empty in­door pool, and the ac­tors, on­stage for the en­tire play, spend time posed around the tiled edges of the pool, sitting on boxes in the shal­low end or crawl­ing into the re­cesses of the deep end. The walls of the drained pool have been dec­o­rated with words — frag­ments of po­etry based on the Antigone myth. The white let­ters are painted on top of rusty-col­ored “dried blood” — ev­i­dence of a war that has al­ready made its jour­ney down the drain.

It is a strik­ing set­ting, and it brings all the more into fo­cus the es­sen­tial el­e­ments of the story, which con­cerns not huge bat­tles in Thebes but rather some­thing more in­ti­mate — a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween a new king, Creon, and his ob­sti­nate niece. She has de­fied a de­cree he has made, play­ing pol­i­tics, and if the law is to be strictly en­forced, she must be killed for dis­obey­ing. Anouilh’s play, writ­ten in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Paris dur­ing World War II, was a ref­er­ence to the plight of the French Re­sis­tance and free­dom fight­ers who were will­ing to die — in con­trast to the col­lab­o­ra­tionist Vichy gov­ern­ment.

“For the first time in her life, Antigone is go­ing to be able to be her­self,” the one-per­son cho­rus says. Antigone, a “dark, tense, se­ri­ous girl,” has de­cided she must die. She says to her fi­ancé Hae­mon: “When you think of me ... do you get the sense that — that a great empty space — is be­ing hol­lowed out in­side you?”

“Tragedy is clean, firm, and flaw­less,” the cho­rus says. “It has noth­ing to do with melo­drama. ... Tragedy is rest­ful. Hope has no part in it.” Anouilh’s adap­ta­tion of Sopho­cles’ drama ex­plores the di­men­sions of gray, the com­plic­ity in the story, the “smelly kitchen of pol­i­tics” — not just heroic ac­tions cho­sen by a strong-willed Greek mar­tyr.

Per­haps it was the set, de­signed by Ilana Kirschbaum, or maybe the fu­tur­is­tic cos­tum­ing by Deb­o­rah Kruhm and Emilee Mcvey Lee, or the direc­tion by Ol­son, chore­og­ra­phy by Karen Brettschnei­der, and mu­sic by Robert Jager. But this, the 100th pro­duc­tion by The­ater­work in Santa Fe, is an in­te­grated pro­duc­tion that is tri­umphant and fresh on many lev­els. It has a whiff of youth and new en­ergy to it. It is also a chal­leng­ing play, per­fectly cho­sen to re­flect not just his­tory but also the world in its cur­rent state.

Acting, not al­ways a strong point in the com­pany’s pro­duc­tions, was uni­formly con­fi­dent. An­gela Janda, as Antigone, all beauty and brains in her Mad Max zip­pered black-leather skirt­ing, strode around like some kind of East Euro­pean fash­ion model/lawyer. Welling­ton Jones, as Creon, man­aged to por­tray a vil­lain with hu­mil­ity. Deb­o­rah Den­ni­son turned in a strong per­for­mance as the nurse; Gemma Har­ris was con­vinc­ing as the sis­ter; Tr­ish Vec­chio and Zoe Baillargeon were solid nar­ra­tors; and Robert Thorpe’s First Guard of­fered much-needed lev­ity to the evening.

How­ever, it was four fe­male stu­dent ac­tors from the New Mex­ico School for the Arts (Kirschbaum, Siena Bergt, Sasha Faust, and Gioia Ber­lin) who brought tex­ture to the evening with­out say­ing a word. They also cre­ated Ol­son’s haunt­ing fi­nal im­age — the sug­ges­tion that, as hor­ri­fy­ing wars flour­ish all around us — new Antigones are be­ing born ev­ery day.

— Michael Wade Simp­son

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