Foreground: Eilin O'Dea as Antigone, holding dirt from the
burial of her brother. Behind (L-R): Allison Threadgold as Ismene, Igby Rigney
as Page, Sue-Ellen Mandell as Nurse
By R. Pikser
Theatre, now in its second season, was founded by classical singer, actor,
teacher, and director Eilín O’Dea. Its objective is to fuse classics of the
theater with arias from opera. The vison, not without interest, is not quite
realized in this production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, itself adapted
from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy written in the fifth century B.C.
was the youngest daughter of Oedipus, King of Thebes, and Jocasta. Oedipus’
terrible sin, the one that brought him to his ruin, was not that he murdered
his father and married his mother, but that, against the wishes on the gods, he
questioned and questioned until he found out what he had done: His sin was
that of hubris, or pride beyond the measure of man. After the death of Oedipus
and Jocasta, their two sons agree to alternate rule of Thebes. However, when
one of the brothers, Eteocles, refuses to give up his rule at the end of the
agreed-upon year, his brother, Polynices, goes to war. The brothers kill each
other and their uncle Creon takes over the rule of Thebes. Having been aligned
with Eteocles, he forbids any burial rites for Polynices presumably condemning
him to an eternal afterlife without rest. This is the background of the play.
play opens as the young and headstrong Antigone defies Creon’s orders and
attempts to bury her brother according to the prescribed rites. For this act
she is condemned to death.
tragedy spoke to the order of the universe and the irreversibility of fate.
Anouilh’s adaptation, written during the Nazi occupation of France,
is referred to in the program notes as a subtle act of resistance.
Byron Singleton as First Guard, Paulina Yeung as Messenger
insertion of operatic arias to this rich interweaving of motivations adds yet
another element to Anouilh’s play, and the actors, when they sing, display
their fine classical training. Even the lowly messenger, Paulina Yeung,
singing Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas makes her voice
Eilin O'Dea as Antigone, Paul Goodwin Groen as Creon.
by Jonathan Slaff
The other arias, a powerful one for Ms. O’Dea at the very top of the show, one
for Paul Goodwin Groen, who plays Creon, and a few for the strong voice of
Byron Singleton, the First Guard, as well as a quartet, are scattered
throughout the show at significant moments. All arias are sung in their
original language, and the content of the words is what relates to what is
happening in the play. There is no obvious reference to the original operas
and the change of languages and musical styles interferes somewhat with the
cohesion of the play. But the concept is intriguing.
O’Dea says in her notes that she searched for singers who could act, rather
than vice versa and, though the singing was preeminent for most of the
performers, their acting skills were generally good. Sue Ellen Mandel was a
warm and loving Nurse to Antigone and her sister Ismène. Ms. O’Dea was
intense, though rather on one level, though, to be fair, Anouilh’s words did
not give her much of a chance to do anything else. But the breathtaking
performance of the evening was that of Mr. Groen as Creon, most especially is his
long speech towards the end of the play when he tries everything in his power
to make Antigone see reason and to save her from the death she so seems to
will. The aria he sings following the speech is also beautifully performed.
It is this speech that, for this reviewer, gives the final lie to the
perception that the play was anti-Nazi. It is the best and most powerful
speech in the play, and Mr. Groen mines it for all its possible underlying
thoughts, emotions and dynamics. By comparison, Antigone has little to say to
counter Creon’s arguments, except that she is doing what she must. Her
position is not nearly so attractive or forceful or beautifully rendered as
his. Why, then, would one resist the forces of evil, given that making waves
doesn’t make any difference and just makes everyone unhappy?
staging, even granted that the space of the black box theater was tiny, was
rather static. Dahlia Barakat’s costumes were elegantly stark, variations of
black and white, ranging from the Nurse, Ismène, and the Messenger in innocent
white to Antigone, Creon and the guards in black, reminding us of the darker
forces that exist in most of us. Minimal props, a pail and shovel for Antigone
to dig the earth to bury her brother, a single strand of metal to represent
Creon’s crown, left us with only the performers and their work on which to
only disturbing note was the use of miking at the beginning of the show. The
tiny space and the training of the performers make all amplification unnecessary,
but this was corrected as the show progressed. By the time we arrived at the
end of the play with Mr. Groen’s and Ms. Yeung’s performances, nothing mattered
but their excellence.
17th - 28th 2017
West 42nd Street, 4th Floor