A tragedy for all times
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