By Sophocles, translation by Richard Engling. Dirs. Zack Brenner and Ann Keen. With Abigail Trabue, Christopher Marcum. Polarity Ensemble Theatre at Breadline Theatre.
Assuming you don’t try to prove a point by setting it in a contemporary American city or on a Western dude ranch, Sophocles’ Antigone is harder to screw up than a recipe for onion dip. So airtight is the last installment of the Oedipus cycle—in which the late Oedipus’ daughter Antigone defies her Uncle Creon’s order, gives her brother a proper burial and pays for it with her life—that the only thing that can hinder a classical-set translation is its structure, a problem that nearly presents itself here. The strangest thing about Engling’s update is that our heroine (Trabue) gets so little stage time. Unlike, say, Jean Anouilh’s self-referential 20th-century version, in which the argument between Creon and Antigone—surely the two smartest people in Thebes—is the dashing centerpiece, Engling’s version has Antigone saying her piece and rushing offstage early in the evening.
There’s nobility and wisdom in Polarity’s stripped-down production approach, but a simple black bare stage would probably look better than the chunky, fake-marble floor and cheap lumber blocks. Likewise, a simple, sober delivery of the text might have carried more weight than the Master Thespian style affected by most of Brenner and Keen’s ensemble. But if you find yourself moved by moments in this show, it’s because Polarity is at least interested in displaying (if not exactly exploring) how Creon’s tyrannical refusal to admit he’s wrong is his ruination.—Christopher Piatt