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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


Fusion 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.


Antigone 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.


The 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. 


Sophocles’ 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


The 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 soar.


Eilin O'Dea as Antigone, Paul Goodwin Groen as Creon.

                                   Photos 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.


Ms. 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?


The 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 focus. 


The 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.


Fusion Theatre

May 17th - 28th 2017

Studio Theater

410 West 42nd Street, 4th Floor

New York, NY

Tickets $40

212 239 9200