Ode to Grecian MonotonyHunter's adaptation of Antigone has highs and lows
In the beginning of December, Hunter’s Theater Department performed Sophocles’ classic Greek tragedy Antigone, directed by Tea Alagic. For those who are unfamiliar, Antigone tells the story of a tragic hero who watches her family get split up during war, becomes a traitor herself and is eventually condemned to death because she wants to secure a respectable burial for her dead brother. Like most tragedies, the play ends with a multitude of deaths.
The curtain opened on a dusty, arid setting with stark, bright lights echoing a blazing desert sun. A tower was erected on the right side of the stage and sandbags were piled over one another in a wall-like fashion. The sets effectively established the tone of Sophocles’ script: intense, harsh, and war-torn. However, the play itself failed to capture the desired result.
Director Tea Alagic took the traditional Antigone setting from Ancient Greece to a non-specific time period in a non-specific Middle Eastern country. The women wore makeshift saris over their heads and shoulders, and the sets and lighting reflected the dusty, barren wasteland of an Arab desert. Initially, I thought this interpretation would effectively translate the motif of suffering in Antigone, but the edit is only half-convincing and mostly unnecessary.
The placement of Antigone in the Middle East felt like a last-minute decision, as opposed to a thought-out one. Despite the questionable location for the play, the props and costumes were put together well. The idea of the Middle East was generally presented well, but there wasn’t any real tie-in to the re-interpretation of this original story. In fact, I had to question the relevancy of the interpretation altogether. What was the real point of staging Antigone in this way? What message was here that the original lacked? How was this setting any more artistic or thought-provoking?
Dressed in illusion-shattering cardigans and dingy, printed shirts, the Chorus and Choragus looked more like English paupers straight from a Dickens novel than Middle Eastern natives. However, that was probably due more in part to Hunter’s budget rather than the skill of the department.
In regards to the performances of the actors, some displayed exuberant talent, while others flitted past without much remembrance.
Playing Antigone, Tess Middlebrook delivered in a difficult role, but the relationship between Creon and Haimon turned out to be more interesting. While Antigone is the play’s main character, her presence somehow managed to slip into the background. Despite her strong delivery, her lines lacked conviction. However, in the beginning, when Antigone tried to convince her sister to help her, Middlebrook displayed impressive sincerity. Specifically, when Antigone said, “Go away Ismene, for I shall be hating you soon, and the dead will, too,” Middlebrook displayed the fervor that one wishes she’d carried through the entirety of the play.
The scene in which Haimon, Antigone’s lover, confronted his father Creon was the most exciting moment in the play, and not just because a slap was exchanged. The dynamic shared between the two characters was wholly convincing: I never failed to believe the authenticity of Bryon Azoulay, who played Creon.
Of all the actors, Alexandra Fokine’s portrayal of Choragus evoked the most enthusiastic response from the audience. From the assurance in her character to the range of emotions expressed, her electric performance never fell short.
In the end, the play was satisfactory at best. With a story as raw and visceral as Antigone, much more could have been done. Antigone’s character is reckless and passionate, and the story itself is a testament to the human condition and the struggle for justice. Yet this rendition of Antigone, while not bad, was mostly forgettable and failed to fulfill.