Antigone, now on stage in Toronto, is inconsistent but provoking
Confronting ideology often requires simplifying the conflict. Alumnae Theatre Company’s Antigone by Jean Anouilh, playing at the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage, clearly wants to find the heart of the struggle in the conflict, but can’t quite find its feet.
Director Janet Kish presents what I thought was an okay production that frustrated me in what it got wrong, but kept me entertained with what it got right.
I think, for the most part, Antigone works hard to combine various creative elements to support the script. In particular masks, movement, and voice are used incredibly well. In a lovely opening sequence, a masked procession moved down the aisle to the stage, singing. The lights were focused on a single figure lying in a spotlight like they were dead. As an establishing moment it set the perfect atmosphere for the plot.
Anhouilh’s Antigone expands on Sophocles’ tragedy in order to examine questions of government, politics, and rebellion. Antigone (Kaya Buchoic) still sets out to bury her brother Polynices, whose corpse is displayed in front of the city gates by King Creon (Scott Moore), as a deterrent to future rebellions. This time, however, the story is fleshed out to examine how and why Antigone and Creon have become so set in their actions.
It is heavy material that benefited from the more dream-like, surreal elements. Hence why I was disappointed when the masks, voice work, and choreography were side-lined for stiff conventional dramatizations. Mask-work existed on the edges of the stage, with background figures occasionally using synchronized movement and gestures alongside moments from central scenes.
I love the idea of mirroring and accenting bits and pieces, but in practice these coordinated moments and gestures had little noticeable rhyme or reason to them. The result looked nice, when it happened, but it failed to resonate with me because it was missing consistency. And the show needed these little accents to be consistent.
There is a lot that happens in the text. I felt that the words needed to land as clearly as the emotional beats. Buchoic and Moore, I think, were easily caught up in the arguments of their characters but couldn’t quite figure out how to connect themes with action. Although Creon and Antigone are, arguably, the most developed characters in the script, they felt intensely one-note. Again, various background elements attempted to dramatize tones and ideas, but they seemed inconsistent with the character deliveries.
But then there are moments when these elements come together and really deliver. For example, The Chorus (played by Amanda Cordner) was often accompanied by movement, voice, and, again mask alongside several fantastic monologues.
According to my guest, Cordner stole the show. The Chorus explained the story, summarized the first act, and ended the play. The character broke the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience and actively playing with the characters onstage as a supernatural force. Cordner’s sly, knowledgeable, but entirely human performance creates a strangely tragic figure who pontificates to the audience and characters about the story itself, as well as the fate that awaits and befalls Antigone and Creon.
Cordner’s strength was that she took a role that demanded exposition and found the heart of the character. She feels for Antigone and Creon even as she remains a detached, factual narrator.
If Antigone could have found that same balance in the rest of the show, it would be stronger for it. At times it comes together but mostly it felt emotionally dissonant for me.
- Antigone plays until October 3rd at the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage in Firehall No. 4 (70 Berkeley Street)
- Show runs Thursday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday matinees at 2pm
- Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the box office one hour before the show, online here, or by phone at 416-364-4170 (press 1)
- All matinees are PWYC and tickets must be purchased in person at the box office 1 hour before the show
- Saturday September 19th is Social Media Night and allows patrons to use social media during the performance.
- In combination with Antigone, Alumnae Theatre Company is also presenting Woman of Courage panel on Sunday September 20th at noon
Photo of Ismene (Carly Telford) and Antigone (Kaya Buchoic) in Antigone courtesy Alumnae Theatre Company