Review: ‘Antigonick’ at Shotgun Players (***1/2)

by Charles Kruger

Rating: ***1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“Antigonick” is not Sophocles’ “Antigone.” Not exactly. Even though the language and the story, with a few variations, are translated from the original, the play is credited to writer Anne Carson, perhaps because it is essentially more a commentary on Antigone than simply a telling of the familiar story. For those who need a refresher course, the plot outline is uncomplicated. King Kreon’s two stepsons fought on opposite sides in a recent war, killing one another. Seeking peace and stability, Kreon declares that one of the brothers was a hero, but the other a traitor. Under penalty of death, nobody is to bury the body of the traitor, but Antigone, his sister, defies the edict. Kreon feels obligated to enforce his death sentence, even though his son is Antigone’s betrothed.

Which is more important: a decent burial for the shamed brother, in accorance with religious law, or the reliability of civil law through the honoring of the King’s decree? It is a matter of political practicality versus religious idealism. Such conflicts and confusion about the proper role of government and the nature of moral compromise are timeless.

Carson’s approach to this material presupposes audience familiarity with its basic outlines as she tears it apart with such tactics as portions chanted in unison, often repeated with slight variations or rearranged in sequence. Actors sometimes step out of the action of the play to comment upon it, sometimes touching upon the play’s place in theatrical history. The original material has been cut up and rearranged, making it fresh, bringing the issues to the forefront of our experience in a visceral way. In this telling, the clarity of the story is secondary to its emotional sweep. The language and the movement and the thought are allowed to sweep over the audience like an ocean wave. The experience is one of being overwhelmed and carried by a flood of emotion and intellectual stimulation, but it is not about story telling. In Greek tragedies, the climax typically involves a “sparagmos” or tearing apart of the protagonist, as when Oedipus tears out his own eyes. In Carson’s piece, it is the play itself that is torn apart.

This all makes for unusual, exceptional and quite challenging theatre.

The most striking feature of this generally striking production is the incorporation of a dancer, Nick, a spectral figure in white, who comments upon and demonstrates the action of the play through the medium of a continuous interpretive dance. This central role is strikingly realized by the very capable and eloquent Parker Murphy. His dance, which is non stop for the full seventy five minutes of the production, displays emotional and physical virtuosity that is quite magical.

Parker Murphy, dancing, as Nick. Photo Credit: Pak Han.
Parker Murphy, dancing, as Nick. Photo Credit: Pak Han.

The rest of the ensemble perform as one, physically, vocally, emotionally. It’s impressive.

The deceptively simple set, customes and lighting by, respectively, Nina Ball, Christine Crook and Stephanie Buchner do their job beautifully and unobtrusively.

This highly stylized, challenging, virtuosic piece of ensemble theatre and dance is hard to describe but easy to assess: it is quite excellent. Highly recommended.

“Antigonick” plays at The Ashby Stage through April 19. For further information click here.

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“Antigonick” by Anne Carson, presented by Shotgun Players. Directors: Mark  Jackson and Hope Mohr. Set: Nina Ball. Light: Stephanie Buchner. Costumes: Christine Crook. Sound: Theodore J. H. Hulsker. Vocal Music: Beth Wilmurt. Dance Captain: Kevin Clarke. Assistant Dance Captain: Parker Murphy. Music Captain: Parker Murphy.

Kreon: Kevin Clarke. Ismene/Eurydike: Monique Jenkinson. Antigone/Tiresias: Rami Margron. Nick: Parker Murphy. Chrous: David Sinaiko. Hamon/Guard/Messenger: Kenny Toll.

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