Anne Carson’s pseudo-translation of Sophocles’ ancient tragedy Antigone, which she published in 2012 as Antigonick, is a weird and wonderful work of dramatic poetry. (Unfortunately, it was perhaps too weird to receive much attention at the time.) I’m happy to report that the new production at SummerWorks this year is just as surprising and innovative as Carson’s original.
Carson, a poet I love for her ability to marry instinct and wit, teaches classics and ancient Greek, and this play is definitely an intellectual exercise as much as it is a gut-wrenching story. I found it very entertaining, but audiences should prepare to sing for their supper: enjoying this one takes some effort.
It begins with a man on stage wearing a keen expression and making subtle measurements of the audience with red string. This is Nick (Joshua Stodart), one of Carson’s inventions, a mute character who remains onstage throughout the play but mostly stays out of the action.
At root, Antigonick tells a brutal tale. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, and after her father’s death, her two brothers kill each other in a contest to rule the city of Thebes. The play picks up after the city’s new ruler Kreon has decided to honour one brother with a state funeral and leave the other to rot on the open ground.
The action revolves around Antigone’s decision to bury her brother’s remains, despite the edict, and for this Kreon punishes her with a terrible death. She herself will be buried… alive. Her fiancé Haimon, Kreon’s son, fights with his father to save her, and in the end everyone has a bad time.
But for all their misery and conflict, Nick is always there, wandering through the scenes like a curious spectator or like a scientist conducting a study. His presence magnifies the unsettled feeling of alienation that defines both the script and the production. I don’t much care about suspension of disbelief, so to me it was interesting to have that perspective expressed openly: we’re all assessing and evaluating this story.
Which isn’t to say that the play lacks excitement or emotion. Apart from being extremely clever, Antigonick is also a bit of a romp, with lots of physicality and surprising visuals. The set suggests a ruined beach, where the haunted citizens of Thebes try to erase the catastrophe of war with partying, only to be thrust back into calamity.
The best character in this play by far is Kreon. Both tortured and torturing, he enacts a fantasy of power without really believing in it, but with a psychotic smile all the same. Dmitry Chepovetsky is excellent and gives a ceaselessly absorbing performance that’s worth the price of admission. Nicole St Martin also delivers a brilliantly lacerating monologue as Kreon’s wife, Eurydike.
This is a very dark play about trauma, humiliation, fear, and the glue for all that sadness: power. Fortunately, there’s a light in all this bitterness, beyond the humour and poetry, and that’s courage. It’s not an uplifting play, but it’s not one-sided either.
- Antigonick is playing at Theatre Centre Mainspace (1115 Queen Street West).
- Show times:
Saturday August 9, 12:30pm
Sunday August 10, 4:30pm
Monday August 11, 9:30pm
Wednesday August 13, 7:00pm
Saturday August 16, 4:30pm
Sunday August 17, 2:00pm
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, or in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo provided by the company