- OnStage Associate New York Critic
It is painful to see brilliant text landing flat due to bad direction. When the lead actress reduces the energy of the talented cast, it is difficult to hold a yawn and a tear. Unfortunately, that is the case with Antigone by Jean Anouilh, produced by the Fusion Theatre and playing currently at the Theatre Row. The artistic director of the company, Eilin O'Dea, is both the director of the show and plays the title character.
O'Dea makes for a much older Antigone than we are used to seeing; the fact that even a short modern dress, which the actress constantly pulls down, cannot change. I would ignore all of that, even with her Irish accent, but the rest of the cast is rather conventional, and O'Dea, maybe a wonderful actress otherwise, simply doesn’t fit in.
After all, it is the convincing performance that makes the audience look beyond what they might find troubling in an actor’s physicality. But if the performance is not particularly impressive, we start grasping for the clues in her appearance to justify our dislikes. I stand for more diversity in the theatre, but the interpretation of the character has to come from the embracing of who you are, not from pretending to be somebody else.
Antigone from Sophocles’ ancient Greek drama is also a misfit in a sense. The adaptation by Jean Anouilh, written and first performed in 1944 in Nazi occupied Paris, emphasizes the rejection of authority and rebellious spirit of the young heroine. Fusion Theatre’s production uses ultra-minimalistic scenic design (by Dahlia Barakat ) and mostly modern day clothing, putting us in some “theatrical” limbo, which seems more like the product of a lazy mind than an artistic decision, and it is ultimately a lost opportunity to make a statement.
After Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, killed each other in a civil war, her uncle Creon (Paul Goodwin-Groen) becomes the new ruler of Thebes. He orders to bury Eteocles with honors and to leave Polyneices’ corpse to rot under the sun, and to kill anybody who will attempt a proper burial. Antigone refuses to follow the royal decree and risks her life to perform all necessary rituals, despite her marriage with Creon’s son Heamon (Dave Grant) at stake, and the begging of her older sister, Ismene (Allison Threadgold).
The opposition of Creon, blindly believing that everything should be done to protect the order, and Antigone, faithful to her loved ones, is the main conflict of the play. The dialogue of the two towards the end of the second act, where Creon explains the political motivation behind his cruel decisions, comes as a bitter revelation and makes you hate and pity and love Creon with all your heart.
Goodwin-Groen, portraying the king, builds up to this moment gradually throughout the entire play. And even despite the stale, virtually non-existing staging (the actors spend most of the scenes glued to one place), Goodwin-Groen astonishingly conveys the drama of a “sovereign out of necessity”. His monumental posture of broad shoulders and eyes full of sadness make him appear like true royalty, whether he is reasoning with his niece in a soft voice or sings “Ella Giammai” from Don Carlo in thundering bass.
Antigone, is infused with arias from Verdi’s and Purcell's operas, adding even more pathos to the Greek tragedy. The four principle characters performing them, Antigone (Eilin O'Dea), the First Guard (Byron Singleton), Creon (Paul Goodwin-Groen) and the Messenger (Paulina Yeung), all possess strong beautiful voices, amplified by the tight box of the Studio Theatre. Even though the arias might seem a bit too long and heavy in the relation to the spoken text and are there are no supertitles, these numbers are the gems of the production.
Antigone runs at Theatre Row - The Studio Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, through May 28th. The running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm; Saturday and Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets are $37.50 for general admission, $25 for students and seniors and are available at www.telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200.
Antigone is written by Jean Anouilh is based on the Sophocles’ tragedy of the same name. It is directed by Eilin O'Dea and produced by Fusion Theatre. Set design is by Dahlia Barakat.
The cast is Eilin O’Dea, Paul Goodwin-Groen, Dave Grant, Sue-Ellen Mandell, Igby Rigney, Byron Singleton, Allison Threadgold, Paulina Yeung.
Asya Danilova is a New York based photographer and behind-the-scenes videographer for film and theater. She started a theater review blog, New Show New York, because of her passion for theater and background in art and film criticism. What began as a hobby quickly became an important means of expression. Her goal as a writer is to bring more young audiences to the theater. asyadanilova.com