Monday, November 02, 2009

SITI Company's "Antigone"

Yet another Antigone, this one adapted for our times. Written by Jocelyn Clarke, directed by Anne Bogart, created and performed by SITI Company, this Antigone protests the American invasion of Iraq and rejects facile and sinister attempts at reconciling the real divisions in American society. It looks steadily, compassionately, at war's casualties, as the fighting proceeds street by street in the Theban war against Argos. Creon suspends civil rights in the name of state security, and puts the protesting Theban elders under house arrest. Pressed again and again to marry Haemon for the sake of national unity, Antigone refuses to compromise on her beliefs, though she loves her childhood friend. The political message is clear in this production, but it is also artful.

One aspect of its artfulness lies in its use of the Chorus. To counterbalance the play's contemporary allusions, the Chorus tells the story of the past. In captivating installments, he explains how Zeus's capture of Europa led to the founding of Thebes and Oedipus' tragedy. The Chorus makes literal what Antigone tries to make Creon understand: the past is not past, but how we see the past is who we are. Though Will Bond who plays the Chorus stumbles a few times over his lines, his voice is ravishingly beautiful, a storyteller's voice.

The staging of the play is also extremely artful. There is so little action in the Greek play, and so much verbal confrontation. Seizing that insight, the production sits the characters round four long tables put together into a diamond. When the characters are divided by debate or interrogation, they sit at opposite tables. When they persuade or negotiate, they sidle up to adjacent tables. Creon is first seen at a back table, the distant and forbidding tyrant, talking as if on TV. When he finally moves to a front seat, he appears monstrously big. When Tiresias comes to Creon, the blind prophet walks slowly on the tables and stands above the seated tyrant, and so makes visual his superior knowledge. When chairs are removed to the sides of the stage, their owners show their distance from the center of the action. The staging also obviates the need for exits and entrances; the characters stay on stage the whole time, sitting quietly or dimly lit when it isn't their turn to speak. LW remarked on the Sophocles-like swiftness of this production's pace.

Makela Spielman plays Antigone persuasively as a resolute human being. Akiko Aizawa's Ismene speaks with an accent, disconcerting to me at first, but later becomes a potent marker of the play's translation and transplantation from its origins; the Greeks did not speak with American accents either. In fact, the cast speak in a variety of accents. This may sound cliched, but Aizawa's face is mask-like, and I fancy that is closer to the Greeks than the others' more naturalistic acting. Haemon is another interesting casting choice. Leon Ingulsrud is a bulky, heavy-faced man, not what one would fancy for a romantic lead. But his acting is so convincing that he makes me change my idea of Haemon. Stephen Duff Webber is a very good Creon, the army commander turned incompletely into a civilian politician.

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