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by Sophocles; Adapted by Richard Garner and Kendall Simpson

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3188

SHOWING : October 10, 2008 - November 02, 2008



Sophocles' Immortal tragedy comes to musical life in this new adaptation by Georgia Shakespeare artistic director Richard Garner. Is your duty to your family or to your king? For Antigone, daughter of the ill-fated Oedipus, this is the dilemma she must face when it is ruled a capital offense to honor the dead body of her brother.

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Bloodlines in the Crucible
by Dedalus
Friday, October 17, 2008
In the darkness, a musical chord is struck and held. It increases in volume and discordance. With a blinding flash, an explosion lights the stage, gunfire erupts, and we are thrust into the world of ancient Thebes, a remarkably modern-looking ruin, complete with fence, barbed wire, and rubble. In the stark firelight, we see a young school girl pleading for calm between two similarly uniformed fighters. The soldiers reach a tense détente, the guns go down, they clasp arms in a wary truce -- a truce easily broken, two deaths suddenly ending a civil war.

This is “Antigone,” Georgia Shakespeare’s new adaptation of the Sophocles classic, his conclusion of the Oedipus tale. GS’s artistic director Richard Garner has fashioned an accessible adaptation, and also written lyrics for a handful of songs by Kendall Simpson. And, in the process, he has produced a work that is stunningly staged, beautifully acted and sung, and surprisingly universal – this 2500-year-old tale has been made to resonate for a modern audience, with not-so-subtle connections made to current political debate and schisms.

The doomed soldiers of the prologue are brothers, Polyneices and Etiocles, sons of Oedipus, battling for control of Thebes, their father’s kingdom. The schoolgirl is their sister, Ismene, trying to bring peace to her family, its bloodline cursed by the sin and pride of their Father. In the wake of the battle, rule of Thebes passes to their uncle, Creon. As his first edict, Creon rules that Etiocles will be buried with all the honors due to a patriot and a hero. Polyneices’ corpse will be left exposed to the elements and to the carrion-eaters in disgrace. Ismene’s older sister is Antigone. She cannot be so arbitrary, and gives due respect and honor to Polyneices’ body. For this, she is condemned to death.

And that’s pretty much all there is. Greek tragedy, by its nature, is still very much a religious ritual, scene and chorus alternating in parables of faith and pride and saga and music. Actors interact more with the Gods than with each other. Because of this, unless a modern production employs some sort of blatant theatricality, a modern audience will not (indeed can not) respond. To quote a certain spouse of my acquaintance, Greek Tragedy is, for the most part, centered on people “Rolling in the mud and whining.” In a strict sense, she is absolutely correct. But, if the translation is poetic enough, if the theatricality is spectacular enough, if the performance is passionate enough, we can and do respond to the “whining.”

In the case, the appeals to us, to the gods, to fate, are rendered in song. Just as Sophocles (and his ilk) employed music and poetry to tell their stories and get “inside” their heroes and anti-heroes, so too do modern musicals use music and poetry for much the same purpose. It should be a perfect fit.

And, in this case, it is – so much so, in fact, that I wish more songs had been written and included. Not counting the Soprano Sax solos by the spirit of Polyneices (a wonderful device, by the way), there weren’t more than five or six songs, and, the purists out there will probably complain that they aren’t used in the same structural capacity that the original Choral Strophes were – they don’t divide the story into its basic five-act structure or punctuate the evolving plotline. There were opportunities for songs for Haemon (whose monologue to Creon is masterpiece of condemnation cloaked in affection) or for Ismene or Eurydice (Creon’s wife) who remain relatively underdeveloped as characters. And I’m not sure the use of Shakespeare’s “What a piece of work is man” monologue was the most effective choice for two different songs.

All this being said, I found this production, from the shocking opening to the dismally just conclusion, to be profoundly moving and riveting. As Antigone, Naima Carter Russell has a powerhouse voice and a passion-on-my-sleeve honesty that screams from the stage. Ms. Russell knocked my socks off in last spring’s “Godspell” at Theatrical Outfit, and here shows that that performance was no fluke. I only hope GS decides to record this cast (songs and monologues) so her beautiful performance can be enjoyed for years to come.

As Creon, Chris Kayser does his usual good work – taking a prideful and arrogant character, and humanizing him, making his downfall affecting, even as we acknowledge its justice. Creon sets himself up as an “Island Unto Himself,” the absolute ruler of Thebes who cannot be swayed by such petty considerations as popular opinion (“I do not rule at the whims of the people of Thebes!”). Mr. Kayser makes Creon’s ultimate isolation (a literal island, if you will) not only appropriate, but moving.

As Polyneices, Eugene Russell is outside the action, dead in the opening moments but our guide through the events. His jazzy bluesy soprano sax solos provide a roadmap to the intricate pathways of passion and emotion we are being asked to traverse. Sophocles wrote nothing for this character, yet in Mr. Garner’s adaptation, he is an integral part of the play’s design and appeal.

The rest of the cast (Koqunia LaTrice Forté as Ismene, Megan McFarland as Eurydice, Joe Knezevich as Haemon, Bruce Evers as Teiresias, Neal A. Ghant as the Chorus/Messenger, and Enoch King as a wryly humorous Guard) are all up to the task of this story, and each have moments of excellence.

But the heart and soul of this production is Naima Russell. She has a belt voice that reaches right to your soul, and an open honesty that makes her fate resonate with sadness and even horror. She is Antigone, in every sense of the word, and we feel that her fate, her struggle, is the final crucible that will forever cleanse the Oedipus bloodline of its doomed progression.

Creon’s bloodline is ended and he is left in the solitude of his own arrogance. But Ismene is left, and will presumably carry her family’s greatness, if not its sin, into the 21st Century. And, to a place in Oglethorpe University, where we may revel in its tale.

-- Brad Rudy (



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