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Volume 72, Issue 63, Thursdsay, November 16, 2006

Life & Arts


School of Theatre taps into still-relevant Greek tragedy 

The Daily Cougar

The UH School of Theatre brought Sophocles' Antigone alive Friday night with an energetic and well-rehearsed cast. 

Sophocles' story of courageous Antigone (Laura Frye) is performed in the style of traditional Greek dramas.

"I was more interested in giving the show a stronger physicality," director and theater professor Jack Young said. "(Antigone is) the product of a pre-industrial culture, one more attuned to the natural world than we are. I worked with the company to come up with the kind of gestural behavior that societies use to recognize forces of nature, in the same way that Catholics cross themselves or some cultures avoid the ‘evil eye.'"

The play opens with the chorus, representing the Theban elders, narrating and acting out a battle scene in which Antigone's two brothers die. The King of Thebes, Creon (Raven Peters), announces that one brother will be honored with traditional burial rights while the other will be left to rot. Antigone will not allow this to happen and buries Polyneices herself, much to the disdain of the king. Creon sentences her to death against the pleas of his son, Haemon (Aaron White), who is also Antigone's fiance. 

Upon hearing of Antigone's death, Haemon kills himself. When his mother (Rivka Noskeau) hears the news, she commits suicide as well, and Creon is left to suffer the result of his choices.

Throughout this tragic tale the chorus sings haunting narrations of the events taking place and serves as a general voice of the people. The 11 actors harmonize beautifully during the songs and add a sense of importance to key moments. 

"One of the reasons I wanted to do the Sophocles (version) was to have more students involved … using more than 20 bodies to make the play filled the stage well, and gave a real sense of a full community dealing with these issues," Young said. "Seeing 20 people praying in unison makes a strong impact."

The ultimate strength of the presentation, however, is in the dialogue between characters. 

Creon and Antigone's exchanges are passionate and heated, as one would expect from a king and the woman he is sentencing to death. The actors' pacing and voice levels are natural and never exaggerated, and audience members truly feel they are invisible observers who stumbled upon these two people's torturous discussion.

"The debates between Creon and Antigone are like power volleys at Wimbledon, and neither of the actors can miss or hit the ball long before Sophocles has finished the exchange," Young said. "Finding the right balance of power and finesse was the big job in rehearsal."

One of the most strenuous relationships is that of Antigone and her sister Ismene (Jessica Boone), the almost annoyingly weak counterpart to Antigone. Ismene demands to die with her sister although she has done nothing for the rights of their dead brother. This interaction becomes more harrowing as the two girls convincingly beg and bicker before the king. 

Boone plays the meek sister well, causing the audience to lose respect for her when she does not mirror Antigone's passion, and she later portrays Ismene's pain so convincingly that the audience can't help but sympathize with her.

Peters is excellent in his role and forcefully delivers his tyrannical outbursts and lines of condemnation. 

One of the most compelling characters in the play was also one of the least used. Known only as a sentry, Caleb George gives one of the strongest performances within his few lines. The comic relief of the play, the sentry provides a nice recess from the soliloquies and arguments between the other characters. 

The story of Antigone is a timeless one, and its treatments of social and political issues are as relevant now as when they were first written. 

"I found it really amazing to read words put together 2,500 years ago looking like the headlines from today's news -- technology may have moved along, but human nature hasn't," Young said.

Though audience members may not be used to the style of the school's performance, they will certainly relate to the themes, and the change of pace from typical plays will just be an added bonus.

"I'm hoping (the style of the play) will spark their curiosity (and) pose a question that will pull them forward in their seats to find out just what all of this is about," Young said. "Our job as artists is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange -- perhaps this production will make the idea of standing up for rights less strange and the event of going to a play more intriguing."

Antigone is double cast (with the exception of the chorus and a few characters). The cast discussed will perform at 8 p.m. Friday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre. The second cast will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $7 for students and $15 for general admission.

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