Saturday, December 8, 2007
West Hill Collegiate has just finished a brilliant production of Antigone (an-tig-o-nee). Not the ancient play by Sophacles, but the 1944 adaption by Jean Anouilh, intended to make the play more accessible to modern audiences.
Antigone is, of course, a tragedy and modern audiences have little appetite for tragedies, no matter how well adapted. If anything, our entire culture is a rebellion against tragedy, against predestination, against fate. Against death itself, for that matter. Given the hubris of our time, it is little wonder the West Hill Auditorium was less than half full.
Antigone is the daughter of King Oedipus who married his mother without knowing his relationship to her. But in ancient Greece, innocence is no excuse and once the rule of the gods has been transgressed, there is only once possible outcome. Oedipus is destroyed and so are his innocent children who are the result of his marriage. Oedipus' two sons fruitlessly battle over their father's throne, killing each other. Crea, the new Queen, declares one brother an enemy of the state and orders that his body remain on the battlefield unburied, and therefore deprived of what passed for heaven in ancient Greece. Outraged, Antigone determines to give her brother a proper burial knowing that her disobeying the Queen's law will result in her death. As, of course, being a Greek tragedy, it does. But there is a twist in Anouilh's Existentialist adaption, no longer does Antigone nobly choose death, instead she rejects life as desperately meaningless without affirmatively choosing a noble death.
Antigone is a challenging play with difficult themes and an heroic clashing of ideas, as the various characters debate Antigone's plan and debate the appropriate response to her disobedience of the Queen. As Anigone, Gaayathri Saravanamuthu is in nearly every scene of the play and has an astonishing amount of dialog to master. Antigone succeeds or fails with this one performance and Saravanamuthu carries the part off with a spirited and rousing performance, well worthy of the standing ovation and the two curtain calls. Giving as good as she gets, Shanique Pearson, as Queen Crea, dominates the stage with a regal presence that also infuses the part with with a real humanity as her personal sympathy and affection for Antigone wrestles with her duties as ruler of a shattered country.
There were no weak performances in Antigone but Stephanie Hinds as Antigone's sister Ismere, Eric Slyfield as Antigone's finance and Aretha Reid as her Nurse were out standing. Justin Kwan managed to replace the entire Greek Chorus with an arresting performance that was at once omniscient and more than a little creepy. Providing much needed comic relief, Priyanka Kumor as the First Guard, showed a rare comedic talent that reached the audience every time. Unexpected additional comic relief was also provided by Bruce, a bat that had gotten into the threatre and occasionally swooped over the heads of audience and cast alike.
Perhaps the real tragedy of Antigone were the empty seats in the auditorium. The acting was at a near professional level, the play was filled with challenging and engaging ideas that are as relevant today as they were in Sophocles time. The actors deserved a full house. If this level of sophistication is the norm for plays put on by West Hill drama students, the community needs to give them more support.