With the French playwright Jean Anouilh’s adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” Theatre Ventoux and the newly founded Live Theatre Company partner on a production that sets up a battle of wills between two famed characters in classic Greek theater.
Antigone and Creon square off over what could ostensibly be seen as simply a religious issue: whether Antigone’s brother, just killed in a civil war over the throne of Thebes, should be accorded a proper burial or be left to rot in the sun. Antigone, stubborn and young, persists in trying to bury her brother, a crime punishable by death.
The play is more than just an argument about religious dogma, however, which is why it is still celebrated thousands of years later.
Antigone is willing to die for idealism. Creon, her uncle, is an emphatic pragmatist. In his view, the stability of society goes a long way toward trumping moralistic opposition.
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The Fresno production, directed by Lisa Taber, intriguingly sets up the contest between Antigone and Creon as one of equals. As she describes in her notes, for her the show is about shades of gray. A “civilized” society, after all, is in a sense a compromise about giving up certain rights as individuals to live together productively as a collective.
This is a different approach than many would associate with Anouilh’s play, which was written and performed during the Nazi occupation of France. In the years following, it came to be known as a categorically anti-fascist statement. In other words, Creon became the villain.
I like the ambiguity of Taber’s premise, but the execution is a little ragged.
The acting was uneven on opening night. Greg Taber was a strong and surprisingly sympathetic Creon. He is brutal, yes, but his love for his niece tempers his stridency.
Kayla M. Weber, as Antigone, started out as frazzled and hysterical, which was fine, but her character didn’t grow in stature. I never felt as if she found a moment of centeredness, of equilibrium, that allowed her character to make a principled stand. She projected not so much strength as spoiled entitlement, and her skittishness made Antigone seem outgunned by Creon. (The contemporary costume design, emphasizing Antigone’s informal dress, didn’t help.)
The direction left Renee Newlove and Ethan Hardcastle, as the guards, as weaker characters than they should be.
On the other hand, Joshua Taber and Broderic Beard had some nice, resonant moments as the Chorus and Haemon, respectively.
Beard also adds greatly to the minimalist production with his smart, specific lighting design.
This collaborative production is ambitious and thoughtful, but it rarely achieves the visceral, soul-searching impact that “Antigone” can have on an audience.