While many may think of ancient Greek tragedy as dry and depressing, Tuesday Night Cafe Theatre’s (TNC) newest production, Antigone, spins this conception on its head with a captivating portrayal of duty and the ties of loyalty. In this tragedy, directed by Harrison Collet and set in Ancient Greece, Antigone (Kay Min) struggles over her uncle King Creon’s (Alex Bankier) denial of proper burial rites for her traitorous brother Polynices following a civil war. When she decides to defy Creon’s ruling by sprinkling earth on her brother’s corpse, each character is faced with a difficult choice.
Antigone, written by Jean Anouilh, was inspired by Greek mythology and by Sophocles’ classical tragedy of the same name. Antigone was first performed in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. The charm of this play lies in its ambiguity. Given the political situation at the time, Anouilh had to tread carefully when representing the rejection of authority, represented by Antigone’s actions against her uncle’s law, and the twisted effects power has on Creon himself.
Antigone‘s set is focused on a stool under a spotlight, where all the drama unfolds. On this stool, we see Antigone’s transition from someone who committed a crime to someone who accepts they must sacrifice themselves for what they believe in. On this same stool we see the struggle of Creon, a man who is not only a king but also an uncle. Creon resorts to begging Antigone to save herself and stop her madness, but his words seem to have no effect on her. Because he must appear as a strong ruler, Creon sentences Antigone to death.
The focus on the stool and the bare-bones set creates a sense of intimacy between the audience and characters. This is especially the case in Antigone’s soliloquy, when she hunches over and bares her soul. The passion of Antigone’s entire cast and crew really brings this play to life. Bankier’s performance as Creon particularly stands out, as he navigates the intricacies of his character’s internal conflict. Overall, the simplicity of the set and lighting contrasts nicely with the complexity of the play’s tragedy.
When asked about the relevance of Antigone’s themes today, Collett explained that the tragedy shows the difference between an individual and society, and the difference between what one can do and what one must do. These themes are most obvious in Creon’s internal struggle regarding the fate of his niece and soon to be daughter-in-law. Collett also went on to mention that the message of the play is even more important today than it might have been when it was first performed, especially in terms of the ideas of state control and surveillance.
Antigone‘s complexity is only fueled by the difficulty of pinpointing who is the villain and who is the hero in the narrative. Is Antigone too stubborn and impulsive, or is Creon too severe? Collett, on his part, said that his sympathies lie with the guards who watch over Polynices’ body, Antigone’s fiancé Haemon (José Camargo), and Antigone’s sister Ismene (Vanessa Combe). In his view, they are all innocent bystanders who have to deal with Antigone and Creon’s actions. Ultimately, it seems like the finger of blame cannot be pointed at any particular character. Rather, the intricacies of political power themselves lie behind Antigone’s tragedy.
Antigone runs from February 19 to 22 at TNC (3485 McTavish). Tickets are $6 for students.