Theater Review: Antigone

Translated by Ro’i Hen; Directed by Yevgeny Arye; Gesher Theater, January 28.

ANTIGONE 370 (photo credit: Daniel Kaminiski)
(photo credit: Daniel Kaminiski)
It’s To Antigone, a poem by Leah Goldberg in the program notes, that provides the clue to Yevgeny Arye’s epic, clarion and completely spellbinding production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone.
The last verse reads “But all is silenced. And neither do your dead/Desire to hear your voice./Try to sleep. Rest meanwhile./Rest in peace upon your fate.”
“You did what was right,” says the poem, “but nobody wants to hear.”
Symbolically burying her brother, Antigone (Ruth Rassiuk) defies Creon’s (Shmuel Viloszny) decree that Polyneices’ body be left to jackals and birds of prey, knowing that she will be caught, knowing that the sentence will be death.
But, says this production, in a world that has become morally blunt a virtuous rebel is a nuisance, needs to be swatted, so that the rest of us, like Antigone’s sister Ismene (Carin Seruya), can go on keeping our heads down.
And that’s what Creon wants. Compliance, not defiance.
And yet the production is call Anti, not Antigone, perhaps for that reason, perhaps because we have to make a dent, even if it’s only a tiny one. To paraphrase the Chorus (Israel Demidov), we’re all born and we all die, it’s what we do with that thing called life that makes each of us different.
Michael Karamenko’s set is epic too. The action takes place on a raked, sandy strand on the edge of the water, backed by a series of towering brazen doors. These can be the actual palace and environs of Thebes. They can also be the portals of the Underworld and the river Lethe that leads to it.
In a strong, skillful cast, three actors stand out.
The barefoot Chorus is backed by a three man band in clown make-up and isn’t the circus all fantasy and illusion? Demidov holds us spellbound, his wry humor binding us in that terrible irony.
Rassiuk’s Antigone makes us remember she’s not much past childhood, that the courage she achieves is hard won, that she’s frightened, that she wants to live, that her act of rebellion comes from somewhere outside herself, and she wishes it hadn’t.
Humming the Habanera from Carmen, Creon gets dressed of a morning surrounded by flunkies. First thing he puts on over his undershirt is a Kevlar vest. He has no illusions about his “faithful” subjects.
After his Creon nobody will be able to fob off Viloszny as ‘just a comedian’. His Creon is not a monster but a man out of his depth who plays the King to the hilt, praying that no-one will see he’s really a straw man.
And that’s the tragedy within Anouilh’s modern Antigone which premiered in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1943. The gods have nothing to do with it. It’s all man made.