Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Whether or not Carson has done the work of a playwright, translator or adaptor, she has done it brilliantly. The current production of Antigonick by Full Circle Theater is mesmerizing from start to finish, and the best work yet from this bold company that continues to push the envelope. Martha B. Johnson, one of Full Circle's "core artists", directs the production, striking a tension from the first moment that continues unabated for the play's seventy-five minutes. Sandy Augustin choreographed the dance and movement which is a significant element of the storytelling, so much so that it would be hard to discern the thin line between the work of choreographer and director, the result being an exquisite collaboration.
The story, already an old legend when Sophocles committed it to writing, deals with honor, fidelity, and the place for justice between the rule of law and obedience to a higher power. Antigone is one of four children born to Oedipus, King of Thebes, and Jocasta. Oedipus, you may recall, was sent away from Thebes as an infant. Upon his return as an adult, he unknowingly killed his father (the king) and married the widowed queen Jocasta, who was his mother. The play begins after Oedipus' demise, as Antigone and her sister Ismene watch their brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, duel to the death for the throne. The death of both sons allows Jocasta's brother Creon to assume the throne of Thebes.
Because Eteocles had defended Thebes while Polyneices had lead an army from neighboring Argos, Creon decrees that Eteocles be given a hero's burial, but Polyneices' body be left untouched and unburied, to become carrion for the vultures–the worst signifier of disgrace and dishonor. Defying her uncle, Antigone anoints her brother's body and covers it with soil in accordance with the dictates of the gods. The play proceeds with the confrontation between Creon, representing the law of man and Antigone, adhering to the gods, as tragic results heap more misery upon the royal family and the kingdom.
This is not the age of the ancient Greek democracy. In the times depicted, the "law of man" was the law of just one man, a king whose whims go unchecked by the voices of the community. Those voices are represented by the Chorus, whose commentary on the resolute will of the king and the brave defiance of the grieving Antigone veer back and forth, like an op-ed page presenting the strengths of both arguments. They tip one way or another depending on who has made the most recent and impassioned claim of authority.
In Carson's rendition, Kreon makes his positions known by spewing out his daily chosen verbs and nouns, without constructing sentences around them: free floating words untethered by context that he can bend or draw upon to satisfy his whims–bearing a striking resemblance to certain current politicians. Antigone and Ismene, in contrast, discuss the work of Hegel, the 18th century German philosopher, and make references to literature by Virginia Woolf and Bertolt Brecht, imbedding articulate ideas into their arguments that gives them not only a context, but a modern context that shows the currency of the questions.
And what of Carson's invented new character Nick–or "nick of time," as Kreon wails when he recognizes his folly? Nick never speaks and appears in a cutaway waistcoat and top hat, with a blood-red feather tucked in the blood-red hatband. Nick is positioned beside or behind the action for most of the play, but when the Chorus express themselves in dance, Nick shifts to the middle of the throng, moving in unison with the chorus but standing out owing to the jaunty costuming. Otherwise, while characters speak or act, Nick appears to be taking measurements of the murals headless horses, their front legs reared up and tangled in red wires that adorn either side of the stage. Nick measures the horses' legs, the distance between legs, the bend in the leg, and so on, but never reporting back to the throng. Only once Kreon realizes that he waited too long to clear his thinking does Nick bring meaning to the people of Thebes. At that time, as they form a large circle with Nick in the center, Nick's arms take on positions like the hands of a clock while the chorus moves rhythmically to the beats of time moving forward. The nick of time slips into time lost forever.
The stunning staging and choreography is lifted even higher by a cast that is wholly immersed in the project. Oogie_Push is remarkable as Antigone, a bastion of righteous strength even as she recognizes the dire consequences of her defiance. Rich Remedios is equally striking as Kreon, issuing a self-satisfied smirk as he proclaims authority that stems not from any natural order but from his ability to bully a crowd into submission. When the inevitable fall occurs (this is, after all, a Greek tragedy), his devastation is shattering. As Nick, Sandy Augustin has a gamin-like presence, seeming to take pleasure in adherence to their directives, without being caught up in the drama of the public arena.
Most of the actors who forming the "chorus" double in another role. Laila Sahir is stirring as Ismene, agonizing over her sister's flaunting the law. Sebastian Grim is moving as Haimon, Kreon's son who is betrothed to Antigone, struggling to support his father's laws while trying to persuade Kreon to align the law with public sentiment–and with his own heart. Eva Gemlo gives a heart-wrenching portrayal of Euridike, Kreon's wife and Haimon's mother, who suffers more quietly but no less persuasively than others. The role of Teiresias, the blind seer, who arrives to enable Kreon to finally "see" where righteousness lay, is divided between a recorded voice, fiercely spoken by Daniel Mauck, and a silent physical presence, sinuously danced by Dominique Jones. Both make outstanding impressions. Dividing the voice and the body gives Teiresias a presence with one foot in the material world and one in a world of deep, irrefutable vision.
The physical production is well wrought to accentuate the power of the story. Mina Kinukawa's set provides clean and open space, featuring light natural wood platforms and steps. The horse murals were created by Bianca Stone for the first published edition of Antigonick in 2012. Khamphian Vang's appealing costumes provide a uniformity of esthetics among the people of Thebes, with Nick being the intentional outlier. Tom Mays designed the effective lighting and Quinci Bachman the sound, which makes a major contribution with recorded musical tracts and percussive beats that animate parts of the narrative.
Overall, Anne Carson's transformation of Antigone into Antigonick is an engrossing work that makes the classic tragedy instantly at home in the twenty-first century. The Full Circle cast and creative team have created a beautiful and provocative stage work. It offers a great deal to consider and discuss upon leaving the theater–including the role of Nick, over which I am still puzzling, but happily so. Antigonick makes a case for the importance of puzzling over meanings, and not confusing first response with best response.
Antigonick, a Full Circle Theater production, runs through June 4, 2023, at Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. Fourth Street, Minneapolis MN. All tickets "Pay as You Are Able," $5 - $35. Masks are required at Thursday evening and Sunday matinee performances. For more information and tickets, please visit fullcircletheatermn.org.
Translator: Anne Carson, from the play Antigone by Sophocles; Director and Dramaturg: Martha B. Johnson; Producer and Associate Director: Rick Shiomi; Choreographer: Sandy Agustin; Set Design: Mina Kinukawa; Stage Murals: Bianca Stone; Costume Design: Khamphian Vang; Lighting Design: Tom Mays; Sound Design: Quinci Bachman; Properties Design: Kenji Shoemaker; Fight Director: Annie Enneking; Intimacy Consultant: Mason Tyer; Technical Director: Austin Stiers; Assistant Director: Siddeeqah Shabazz; Assistant Dramaturg: Jess Henning; Stage Manager: Amanda Oporto; Assistant Stage Manager: Katie (KJ) Johns.
Cast: Sandy Augustin (Nick), Georgia Doolittle (Chorus Leader), Eva Gemlo (Euridike, Chorus), Sebastian Grim (Haimon, Chorus), Dominique Jones (Messenger, Eteokles, Teiresias [movement], Chorus), Cooper Lajeunesse (Guard), Daniel Mauck (Teiresias [voice]), Oogie_Push (Antigone), Rich Remedios (Kreon), Keegan Robinson (Sentry, Chorus), Laila Sahir (Ismene, Chorus), Dylan Taylor-Brunell (Guard), Keivin Vang (Polyneikes, Chorus).