Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Antigone is one of the oldest plays still regularly performed. Greek tragedies have a unique style and rhythmic cadence not simple for modern actors to come to terms with. The text is meant to be declaimed, spoken big and boldly. Also, the plays have a chorus that comments on the action and if history is correct, the chorus actually sang or chanted their parts. Even if transposing the action to a more modern time, the style must be observed; it simply doesn't juxtapose in any reasonable manner, just as Italian operas do not. Michael Mayer may set Rigoletto in 1950s Las Vegas for the Metropolitan Opera, but the music and text cannot be altered to sound like something Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin might have sung in the club rooms of the era.
This is where director Greg Leaming runs afoul. From what I saw on stage, he does not have a clear enough idea of proper style. A few actors get it right or almost right, the chorus members in the early scenes are creditable, especially when multiple voices declaim the same text, but later on they mostly have one actor to a stanza, in rotation, which is far less effective. I found it unclear exactly where he has set the play. Costumes by Sofia Gonzales are a complete smorgasbord of military, faux ancient Greece, modern day civilian so that relationships are not clear. It is midway through the scene between father Creon and son Haemon that I remembered their relationship to each other. As if this is not enough bowdlerization, Antigone is alive at the final curtain when Sophocles has her hang herself.
Naire Poole leads off the play as Antigone, sharing a scene with Anna Beth Baker as sister Ismene. Ms. Poole brings most of the right intensity but does not sustain it in her only other scene, at the play's denouement. Ms. Baker doesn't have enough to do to begin to assess her performance. She almost exclusively reacts to Antigone's recitation of how she finds herself in a huge predicament. Christopher Hayhurst as Creon has the longest, most important role. He is physically imposing, looking a bit older than his classmates, but does not provide the proper sense of declaiming the text. I sense a fine actor within, if not in this part. Liam O'Brien as Haemon is doubly hampered, with a costume that confuses rather than helps us with his identity. Unfortunately, their final scene doesn't pack the wallop that it should.
Jacob Sefcak as the Sentry appears so young I found myself unable to properly react to his important news with the emotional weight it would have were he costumed older. Bonita Jackson as seeress Tiresias brings it all on. It is totally believable that she is blind and an old lady, and she could give lessons in proper vocal technique. Jamie Saunders as Messenger and part of the chorus, Kaitlyn Weickel as Eurydice and chorus, Anna Newbury and Alex Rodriguez as Chorus Leaders, and Christopher Blonsky and Kenny Fedorko as Chorus bring moments of good style, mostly when they are allowed greatest physicality while delivering text. The opening choral sequence, which involves fighting with mock ninja weapons, is also a time when the text comes alive. If historical writings are to be believed, the chorus in ancient times carried large sticks and beat them rhythmically on the stage floor during long recitations.
Scenic design by Jeffrey Weber conjures ancient ruins effectively.
This production of Antigone allows acting students to stretch their techniques into areas they might otherwise not otherwise approach, and gives audiences, myself included, exposure to one of the monuments of world theater. For that I am grateful.
Presented by Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, Antigone runs through November 17, 2019, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, visit www.asolorep.org/conservatory/ or call the box office at 941-351-8000.