Come see “Antigone” this weekend

We are at the hub of a modern seat of power. As we hear the whirring sound of sirens, frantic office workers pass urgent messages up the chain of command. Finally, everyone gathers around a screen to witness and cheer the capture of a noted enemy of the state.

When one thinks of Sophocles Antigone one doesn’t traditionally think of suit jackets and a Cold War-era office space, one thinks instead of togas and old men. But that is not the case with Homestead High School’s production of Antigone which brings us to a more modern age, one not yet touching the 21st century, a country on the brink of success or collapse. The set created mostly by the Tech Theatre class this trimester and helped by the Stage Crew suggests the former Eastern bloc, a surveillance state which acts with the force of psychological repression, as well as suggesting other evil regimes from all over the world. It’s a bunker, a war room, or a dictator’s nuclear-proof hideaway.

Antigone and Ismene talking in the Prologue

The backstory to Antigone is long and found in six other plays, four of which are lost forever to us. I will keep it short: Oedipus was the last king of Thebes and Antigone is one of his children. A war has been raging in Thebes. Polynices and his brother (both sons of Oedipus) have killed each other on the battlefield fighting to be king. Antigone’s uncle, Creon has claimed the throne and decides that Polynices’s body will not be buried but will be left to rot on the battlefield. Polynices’s sister, Antigone is determined to go against the new King’s decree and bury her brother. When Creon discovers what she has done, he condemns her to be buried alive in a cave in spite of the fact that she is his niece and betrothed to his son. A hard man if ever there was one. But Creon’s decision turns out to be catastrophic for him, his wife, and his son.

Creon fighting with his son Haemon

The third of the Theban plays, Antigone is a perfect tragedy: everyone behaves in the right way, but with fatal results. It’s a true tragedy of irreconcilables. The one problem with putting the play into modern dress is that it brings with it too many associations. When Creon invokes “the power of the state” we tend to shudder, whereas the play’s original spectators would probably have sympathized with his argument that loyalty to city or country supersedes that to family or friends. But HHS avoids turning the piece into a moral melodrama in which a virtuous Antigone confronts a wicked tyrant. Grayson Buesing’s outstanding Creon becomes the play’s tragic center. Creon, the stubborn ruler who, trying to impose order on a fractured society, is unwilling to hear dissent from a woman—or from the young man who loves her, his own son Haemon, played by the earnest Josh Stanford. Buesing presents us with a charismatic leader steeped in patriarchal tradition and naively trusting in the invulnerability of power: confronted by Antigone and her sister Ismene, he mockingly observes “These women are neurotic”, and when his son Haemon tries to warn him about shifting popular sympathy, he loftily dismisses “the opinions of people in the street.” Buesing’s Creon is not evil but fatally in thrall, like many modern politicians, to the idea that authority is somehow inviolable.

Creon yells at the Soldier
Greer Patten as the Messenger

Alexandra Berryman’s Antigone is no bright-eyed martyr. Instead, she is a determined young woman who believes nothing is more important than the debt we owe to family and the dead. She holds to her beliefs even as her sister, Ismene, played by Alyssa Santoleri, begs her to reconsider. The emotions you feel while watching Berryman’s Antigone runs the gamut, you feel for her plight, you wish she’d give in and you want to jump up on stage and fight for her as she’s led to her death.

In this production, the lines of the chorus are split among a host of individual actors, who become a pack of political advisors, security experts, report writers, military experts, and secretaries. This works really well, and the ensemble holds the play together while propelling the action forward. Brian Franks is unflinchingly argumentative as the soldier who reports Polyneices’ burial, Gergana Ivanova as the prophetic Oracle, Teiresias has the testy impatience of the truth-teller, and Greer Patten as the Messenger delivers news of the climactic tragedy with appalled disbelief. But what this production does superbly is ushering us into a world of self-regarding power that falls apart through its neglect of instinctive human feeling.

Short at around 90 minutes, Antigone manages to encapsulate the essential conflicts between politics, power, the rights of the individual, and common humanity. Tickets are found on GoFan.

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