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A CurtainUp Review

by Les Gutman

It is my difference that makes you fear.
E. Wong and Members of the Chorus (Photo: Ching Gonzales

Choruses can be deadly in poorly realized Greek tragedies. In Jean Randich's staging of Antigone for NAATCO (the National Asian American Theatre Co.), however, the Chorus of Theban Elders is the only really "alive" thing onstage. The play's "action" is rendered inert by performances in many of the major roles that are bereft of both the emotional texture and depth that drive it. We are left, then, with a production notable only for its often-energetic choral punctuation.

Although CurtainUp has reviewed several shows based on the themes of Antigone (see links below), it appears this is the first review of a reasonably faithful telling of the play written by Sophocles. (And though it is contemporary in language, Brendan Kennelly's translation does indeed stick closely to the original.)

As the play opens, Antigone (Eunice Wong) is attempting to persuade her sister, Ismene (Cindy Cheung), to join her burying their brother, Polyneices, who was killed in battle. Ismene refuses, because Creon (Mia Katiabak) has ordered that he be left to rot in the field, while their other brother, Eteocles, is afforded the customary burial rituals. (Polyneices was on the "wrong" side in the war.) Antigone buries him anyway, setting off a major scandal when she is captured and admits her deed (which she considers morally correct). After arguing with his son, Haemon (Art Acuña), who is also Antigone's fiancé, Creon decides to imprison Antigone in a cave instead of killing her. A prophet, Tiresias (Nicky Paraiso), warns Creon that the gods are on Antigone's side. Creon reverses his decrees, but not before his son and wife, Eurydice (Emi Fujinami Jones), have killed themselves. Creon learns a hard lesson. As the Chorus concludes the play:
To be wise is to be almost happy.
The god's laws are the laws we must observe.
Our little strength is nothing set against their might
And the ringing words of proud men
Are children's frightened whispers in the night.
Sophocles' tale creates a pitched battle between two people assured of the certainty of their beliefs, one of whom (Creon) must come to recognize his error in the harshest of ways. Yet for Ms. Wong and Ms. Katiabak, the stakes never seem nearly so high, and in the latter case, the gender-bent casting (in which Katiabak is dressed and coiffed as a man) does little more than produce the occasional giggle as it collides with the text (e.g., Creon saying "I would be no man/She would be the man/If I let her go unpunished.")

The chorus (mostly young "Elders") executes well, adding not only force to the production but singing, movement and percussion as well. Several chorus members fare well performing double duty (including Orville Mendoza as a guard and James Shubert as a messenger) as well as Mr. Acuña and Mr. Paraiso), with nicely managed transitions under Ms. Randich's direction.

Sue Rees has managed an attractive set that serves all necessary functions and adds a bit of environment as well. Stephen Petrilli's lighting is particularly striking, and Elly van Horne's costumes (modern black suits for the men, flowing dresses for the women, and some simple contemporary changes for those with multiple roles) are quite effective. Though perhaps less than groundbreaking, Robert Murphy's music serves the show well, and is nicely handled in Dave Morreale's sound design. But in the end this production falls short in the inspiration category.

Antigone at CSC
Antigone Through Time at FringeNYC
The Island
The Phoenician Women

by Sophocles, translated by Brendan Kennelly
Directed by Jean Randich
with Art Acuña, Alexis Camins, Cindy Cheung, Siho Ellsmore, Emi Fujinami Jones, Mia Katigbak, Orville Mendoza, Nicky Paraiso, Fausto Pineda, James Shubert, Cruz Turcott and Eunice Wong
Set Design: Sue Rees
Costume Design: Elly van Horne
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Sound Design: Dave Morreale
Composer: Robert Murphy
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
A production of National Asian American Theatre Co.
Intar 53 Theatre, 508 West 53rd Street (10/11 AVS)
Telephone (212) 244-0447
Opening July 28, 2004, closes August 14, 2004
MON - SAT @7, additional performance 8/7 @3; $19
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 7/26/04 performance
Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
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metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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