I never get tired of the Antigone.
You can dress it up for 2020 or dial it back to 441 BC, cast with gender or against it, make Antigone a heart of gold underdog or an arrogant, spoiled brat, have the chorus sing, dance, chant, or mime. It doesn’t matter. It will always be a good show because the fundamental story always finds relevance. In defiance of King Creon’s new decree intended to reassert control over a war-torn state, Antigone buries her rebel brother. Despite their close relationship (she’s engaged to Creon’s son), Creon intends to carry out the punishment for the law he has set: death. Sophocles, the playwright, included themes that go well beyond church vs. state. He also looks at the role of gender, love, loyalty, family, the obligations rulers have to their people, the place of the state law vs. moral law. On and on. Hence, we have a classic on our hands.
Raise the Stakes Theatre’s production, directed by Anton Golikov, is largely conservative with the material but finds just the right moments to throw in interpretive surprises. The set and characters are set in the ancient world. Many of the men sport beards and the women have braided hair that reflect ancient images. The actors even seem to gesture as if posing for vases.
Yet the characters are played in ways we both might and might not expect. Antigone (Alison Louder) is headstrong, righteous, and defiant. Sister Ismene (Albane Sophia Chateau) is the willowy doormat who accepts the commands of her superiors. Creon (Maxime Paradis) has something of an anger management problem, especially when he thinks a woman is getting the better of him (which by and large reflects the world from which the play comes). A demonstration of his initial “humanity”, such as when he flexes during his first speech, is a lovely touch that fades as he clutches to power. The dopey guard (Niamh Power) who announces that the decree is broken is an Irish-accented chatterbox. Haemon (Gabriel Maharjan) is earnest and his reasonable argument discounted by his young age. Blind prophet Tiresias (Antonio Bavaro) is wonderfully eerie, accompanied by a female helper (Zamera Amy Topolovec) who judgingly weaves her way around the “citizens” of Thebes with a white cloth. Even Eurydice (Isabelle Giroux) and the guard who says nothing the entire show (Nezeer Khan) are memorable.
The chorus is spectacular. All men, their voices and varied clothing give a good sense of a society in which men dominate even if they come from all social classes. For roles that can sometimes feel irrelevant when compared to the weighty, profound speeches of the other characters, these men make themselves distinct, significant, and highly watchable. Along with the chorus, the music that accompanies them is perfect. The band enriches without making itself obvious. Such talent!
Other things Golikov nails in this show is how he uses the space. As a church with pew seating, the show makes great use of the centre aisle, as well as the first row of pews. The lighting/projection in the space was carefully curated as well, starting with the initial night sky for the first scene. The way the characters are lit, positioned, stand and move reminds me of Ingmar Bergman films.
Overall, this is an excellent production. There is a good balance between adhering to tradition and finding places to break out and add their own touches. The story carries itself and not surprisingly, feels relevant. The show is carefully and lovingly done, and well worth seeing.
Antigone is at Westmount Park United Church (4695 Maisonneuve Ouest) from January 31- February 14. See website HERE for tickets and showtimes. $20/8 p.m. most shows.