Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Court Theatre
Review by Christine Malcom

Also see Christine's recent reviews of Chess and Richard III and Karen's reviews of Mothers and Twihard

Matthew C. Yee and Aeriel Williams
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Court Theatre continues its 2024/2025 season with its staging of Antigone, translation by Nicholas Rudall, directed by Associate Artistic Director Gabrielle Randle-Bent. The play closes Court's multi-season Sophocles cycle with an appropriately electrifying finale.

The production's visuals provide the bedrock for success, beginning with John Culbert's scenic design. The set is basically two interlocking curves that rise from floor to ceiling. These are painted with a textured, abstract design in blues, coppers and oranges. Any given section one's eye falls on might suggest a partial panel of Monet's Water Lilies or some other tranquil Impressionist's work, but as vast, inescapable expanses of color, they conjure up sandblasted landscapes as much as urban blight and the inexorable decay of the characters' world.

Keith Parham's lighting both employs and transforms the set. As characters enter from upstage left, their dramatic shadows precede them. The absolute black imposing its will on Culbert's backdrops is startling in its effectiveness, and each silhouette is distinctive enough that the audience soon knows which characters are entering and which are listening in from the dark creeping in around the edges. Perhaps Parham's most effective move is the prolonged and near absolute darkness he employs as Antigone, sealed into her cave by Creon's decree, unleashes her grief and rage.

Raquel Adorno's costumes are just as critical to the staging's overall effectiveness. She outfits the two poets in black velvet tabards with long silver fringe from shoulder to ankle so that the two become undulating shadow and light as they stomp and dance and translate Randle-Bent's interest in Sophocles the poet into movement. Tiresias, the prophet, is dressed in the colors of the landscape itself in a traditional orange checked jacket and pants with a blue mantle worn diagonally. To represent the authority and privilege of not just government, but masculinity, she dresses Creon in a double-breasted suit. The deep pine color of the fabric, in concert with the colors of the scenic elements, suggests corroded metal, and the pants tucked into thick-soled black Chelsea boots lend a slight hint of military might. Haimon, Creon's son, sports a Western blue-collar look, with a knit cap, a button-down shirt that looks as if it ought to have an oval name patch stitched on, and nondescript pants.

But Antigone and Ismene, appropriately, are Adorno's masterpieces. Ismene's silhouette is exaggeratedly youthful and feminine, with a rose-pink foundation visible through a mossy green net overdress with puffed sleeves and a handkerchief hem. The flowers that Antigone weaves into her sister's hair in the opening scene impart the sense that Ismene is the last stubbornly growing thing in a dying landscape. Antigone wears a high-necked, close-fitting, jewel-encrusted top in white, worn over close-fitting black tights and, early on, a short, shimmering fishnet miniskirt. This look is simply stunning, even more so when, later, Haimon fastens around her the voluminous, trailing skirt of netting that shades from silver to deepest black.

Willow James's sound design and composition fill the entire space at Court with unearthly vibrations, the amplified sounds of the ancient board game Creon and Haimon play, the stomping feet of the poets, and the swelling of the characters voices in song and pain, alike. All these elements come together with Randle-Bent's commitment to the language, which washes over an audience that may only comprehend a portion of the literal meaning of the words, yet grasp the irresistible sense of their meaning and power.

None of this is possible without the performances Randle-Bent demands and the cast provides. Aeriel Williams has command of every facet of Antigone, from the sister who cannot fathom any course of action other than her own to the lover who burns with and basks in passion even as she faces down death. In total darkness, with her slow, deliberate steps barely visible, she holds the audience rapt.

Ariana Burks as Ismene serves to fully sound out the world Williams establishes. Young and fearful as she allows her Ismene to be, she forces us to reckon with the sense and rightness of this younger sister's view of movement through the grim realities of her world. When she denounces Creon as without power in Thebes, the room rings with the might of it.

As Creon, Timothy Edward Kane is simultaneously the embodiment of self-corrupting authority and a man and a father who believes that there is order and goodness in a world that would rightly lay that authority at his feet. He does not shy away from the arrogance, misogyny, and brutality of the character, yet the creeping madness that takes hold of Creon as he mourns for the destruction of his family, as he sees no path other than to stick to his rigid pronouncements, is genuinely effecting.

As Haimon, Matthew C. Yea explores the ethical and emotional poverty of trying to take a middle ground between dutiful son, ardent lover, and political realist, and yet his Haimon is deeply human. His renderings of the language are natural and full of feeling. The physical work that he and Williams engage in during the lovers' scene at the cave is revelatory.

As the poets Demophilus and Euboule, Danielle Davis and Cage Sebastian Pierre draw the audience into the heart of the play with the power of their voices, the rhythm of their feet, and the movement of their bodies. The two invest every word, whether they are declaring, singing, beat-boxing, or engaging in simple dialogue, with power and emotion.

Finally, as the Watchman/Guard Julian Parker injects humor into the proceedings without ever lapsing into simple comic relief, and as Tiresias the Prophet, Cheryl Lynn Bruce speaks with unquestionable conviction and real power as she tears down Creon's petty, flimsy version and reveals what will now be as the result of his corrupt actions.

Antigone runs through March 2, 2024, a the Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit or call 773-753-4472.