The story of “Antigone,” adapted by Artistic Director FL Henley, Jr., is an overt commentary on contemporary politics, a political manifesto urging theater-goers to the polls.
I won’t lie. The play made me mad. Discomfited. Pained in places.
And that’s exactly what the play is designed to do.
With a play as old as “Antigone,” its themes are as relevant today as they were 2,400 years ago: absolute power corrupting absolutely, the danger of pride upheld above all other values, man’s laws vs. God’s (or gods’) laws, and ethical questions in handling unjust laws.
While Sophocles wrote his characters to the issues of his day, and even threw in a plague for good measure, centuries’ worth of audience viewers can easily call to mind their own examples of unjust laws, tyrannical rulers, and “what would you do” ethical situations. (As a Catholic school veteran and a mostly functioning member of a dysfunctional family, the allegorical lines don’t even need be political.)
Speaking of dysfunctional families, we find our tragic anti-heroes in the aftermath of a civil war. Remember Oedipus from Freud’s theory? This play is about his children, who are also technically his nieces and nephews. Although Oedipus’ daughter Antigone (Erika Eberly) acknowledges her grafted family tree as part of her internal struggle, more pressing is her determination to bury her brother Polynices properly, and she wants her sister Ismene (Caitlyn Davis) to help her.
The new ruler, Kreon (Marc Lubbers), has proclaimed Polynices to be a traitor, that he should remain unburied and un-mourned. With Antigone set to marry Kreon’s son, Haemon (Stiles Everett), the conflict layers itself. Even Kreon’s Senators (Joel Colvin, Chris Krahulec, James Mitchell, Adam Bateman, Sara Foster, Sarah Vermeulen, Caitlyn Davis, Daniel Hutchins, and Stiles Everett) and Kreon’s own wife Eurydice (also Chris Krahulec) point out that the law is unjust, and seems to be aimed at Antigone.
Eberly and Lubbers are standouts in passionate character interpretation, complete with well-timed, red-faced, sputtering line delivery. Evenly matched and motivated by their conflicting convictions, neither backs down from the other, feeding off each other’s heated dynamics.
In the wake of the main conflict, the play’s soap opera style then yields room for more restrained roles. Davis plays Ismene as a hesitant, frightened woman firmly set on playing by the rules, even if unjust. Stiles also finds themselves among the high drama, although they display their fury through the process of character development, a volcano erupting at just the right time.
Although Narcisse’s “Antigone” is purposefully timed with the upcoming November elections, it feels as if political platforming through the theater medium has more bluntly saturated year-round plays that used to be solely entertainment, to the point where audience viewers receive an almost constant stream of entertainers’ political agendas. Henley isn’t trying to be sneaky about it, or even slightly subtle. He is in your lap (in the program, that is), telling you who not to vote for and why.
You can get riled up like I did, for any combination of characters’ actions or inactions, your personal political stances on any point of the spectrum, or a memory triggered of an elementary school principal who gloated about filling your young life with rules that still make no earthly or heavenly sense. The fact is that there are no easy resolutions in the themes “Antigone” surfaces. I imagine what’s hard to do is watch this play and feel any semblance of contentment.
“Antigone” makes good on Henley’s promise of all Narcisse productions: “There are no happy endings. We want you to leave with uncomfortable questions. We don’t put a bow on it for you.”
“Antigone” runs Sept. 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 at Italian Lake Park, with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, with donation suggested. Bench seating is available, and you can bring your own lawn chair. (Bring insect repellant, too.) Find more information at www.narcissetheatre.org and on Facebook.
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