Story: Eteocles and Polyneices, sons of the late King Oedipus of Thebes, each dies in battle on opposite sides of the civil war fought in Thebes. Their uncle Creon, now ruler of Thebes, declares that Eteocles shall be honored as a patriot and given a proper burial, but that Polyneices’ body will be left in the streets to be preyed upon by carrion birds and animals.
In defiance of her uncle, Antigone buries her brother Polyneices and incurs Creon’s wrath. He orders her to be buried alive in a cave as punishment, although he spares her sister Ismene a similar fate. Creon spurns his son Haemon’s plea that his fianceé Antigone be spared, so Haemon leaves angrily in response.
When the blind soothsayer Tiresias warns Creon that he has angered the gods with his decree, and the Chorus warily implores Creon to change his mind, he agrees. The wheels of fate, however, have already been set in motion, leading to unbearable tragedy for Creon as a result of the tardy abandonment of his pride.
Highlights: This classic tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles has been adapted and translated countless times through the centuries. The latest version, by author David Slavitt, is receiving its world premiere as the opening production of Upstream Theater’s 10th season.
Meticulously directed by artistic director Philip Boehm and featuring superb performances by a stellar cast, Upstream’s presentation shows the timelessness and enduring perceptive power of Sophocles’ observations of human foibles.
Other Info: Boehm writes in his program notes, “While it would be wrong to suggest a direct correspondence, recent tragic events in our city lend unwanted resonance to this ancient tragedy…the question remains: How do we seek collective catharsis?”
Antigone’s act of civil disobedience, in the conviction that she is morally right and in agreement with divine powers, puts her at odds with the conventional and politically rigid Creon. While both Antigone and Creon are firm in their beliefs, neither can escape the consequences of their actions.
Michael Heil’s scenic design is simple, featuring a backdrop of classic Greek forms in panels painted by James van Well, complemented by Christie Johnston’s stage art, and an array of functional props provided by Claudia Horn that are integral to the plot. Steve Carmichael’s lighting is strikingly effective, accentuating the play’s gloomy themes at pivotal moments, such as the opening sequence.
LaLonnie Lehman makes a bizarre costuming choice by depicting Creon in a suit and wearing shoes, while everyone else is barefoot or in sandals of ancient attire. Perhaps her intention is to single out Creon as deviating from the wishes of the populace and therefore looking ‘different’ than the others, a most jarring appearance.
Boehm’s cast is uniformly impeccable in their portrayals, all well versed in the gravitas of the situation, as circumstances transcend character traits and rush these mortals to tragedy and misfortune.
Maggie Conroy excels in the title role, evincing Antigone’s unwavering belief in her moral code, something she takes willingly to the grave, defying her uncle’s decree. She parries and thrusts in verbal combat with Peter Mayer’s Creon, the latter a king who rages in authority and demands obedience to his decisions, right or wrong, although he is convinced of his own moral authority. Mayer’s Creon dispatches women and his own son as well with casual disdain, until faced with the certainty of divine wrath.
Dennis Lebby, Norman McGowan and Patrick Siler make a sobering and wobbly Chorus, three aged men who meekly conform to Creon’s edicts until mustering the courage to give more ominous advice following the dire predictions of the soothsayer. They also provide an eerie sound design, drumming on primitive instruments or singing softly in ethereal cadence.
John Bratkowski offers a marvelous turn as Tiresias, the blind prophet who ratchets up his dialogue with Creon when the latter at first dismisses his admonitions. He also brings humor to the role of a guard who has the misfortune of delivering bad news to the intractable king.
Andrew Michael Neiman brings quiet persuasion and subsequent volcanic anger to the role of Creon’s dutiful son, Haemon, who lobbies unsuccessfully for his fiancée’s life. Nancy Lewis plays a messenger conveying harsh news to Creon with savvy and painstaking, deliberate power, while Wendy Renee Greenwood is equally effective as the timid Ismene and the quietly powerful Eurydice, Creon’s troubled wife who reels from her own multiple tragedies.
Boehm’s observations and thorough direction make clear how relevant Antigone continues to be, millennia after its first performances, showing how the Fates hold sway even in the 21st century.
Group: Upstream Theater
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive
Dates: October 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $20-$30; contact email@example.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak