Then, right away we get into not just the plot, but also a crucial characterization point about Creon. Arguing with Oedipus (Joe Wilson Jr.), whom he knows to be dead and only imagined, Creon says that he didn’t want to be a politician, he just wanted to write plays, saying, “I took control because someone had to.” This reluctance gives depth to his character, later contrasting starkly with his bullheadedness, as he becomes driven by anger and ego. Most importantly, this sets the stage for him to understand that Antigone’s lawbreaking was simply trying to do the right thing. Sullivan beautifully balances this dual aspect of Creon that he shares with Antigone, his motivation swaying between duty and pride.
Director Brian McEleney finds ingenious ways to lighten serious moods with humor, letting this play breathe. As every schoolboy knows, Oedipus had unknowingly married his mother, Jocasta (Anne Scurria), Creon’s sister, and as they kiss in the king’s imagination, the chorus groans and squirms uncomfortably at the sight. Creon quips, “Well, that never worked when you were alive,” which also establishes that he is dreaming.
The king addresses the Thebians, saying that now, after four years of war, they will rebuild. This is when he prevents the burial of his traitorous nephew, Polyneices, insisting that, “Death will not allow this monster to escape.” Intriguingly, the chorus comments: “We know this story. You know this story. How is it possible for you to be shocked?” What a marvelous risk, to call attention to the challenge of theatrical storytelling.
After this and a few other brief but heavily charged scenes that lay out the back story, the tone relaxes again. In the kitchen of the royal household, the atmosphere lightens to the point of comic relief, as the servants banter and complain to their taskmistress Agave (Barbara Meek). Here Scurria is Xanthippe, too hung over to work willingly; such contrast to moments before, when she was the regal Jocasta. Again the bitter and the sweet mingle, as Xanthippe remarks matter-of-factly to fellow servant Meletia (Janice Duclos) about mourning her children, who were killed in the latest war. Later, Duclos gives a quietly powerful address to the audience, stage front, as Meletia simply states that she misses her husband, who was also killed in the fighting.
And so it goes. This production continues to pinpoint relationships that need special attention. Warren is a spirited Antigone who makes her decision not out of petulant anger or drunken resolve — she is everybody’s boozy sister-in-law here — but from a clear choice to do what morally she must. Even after she goes away to reconsider her decision, after arguing with Creon and Haemon, she returns both times in full resolve. Once those second thoughts subside, she rights herself and continues on her course, like a ship surviving a storm.
Her sister Ismene goes mad in her despair over not being able to talk Antigone out of her own well-reasoned madness. Angela Brazil conveys Ismene’s anguish affectingly. Stephen Thorne gets across a similar depth of concern even without a mad scene, as Antigone’s betrothed, Haemon, who unsuccessfully argues and begs with his father, the king, for her clemency. The rival brothers Polyneices (Aaron Rossini) and Etocles (Mauro Hantman) are worthy opponents, a point amplified by ingenious staging: their mutually lethal spear fight is atop wheeled scaffolding that the ensemble roles about, giving the pell-mell effect of battle confusion.