Breaking Convention: Artistic Nuances in Antigone

Last Friday’s Theatre Workshop, Antigone, written by Jean Anouilh and directed by Susannah Nitz-Gund ’04, was anything but conventional. Nitz-Gund took some bold steps in a direction that few PA directors have taken in recent productions. These daring choices helped to bring out the best in a mediocre script. The most notable alteration was the rotation of the theatre; the audience was seated on stage instead of in the house, thus turning the action around so that the actors’ backs faced the grand auditorium of Tang. Creating a more intimiate relationship with the audience, the change served to heighten drama and intensity on stage, with backlighting creating an eerie and unique atmosphere. “It really allowed us to connect with the audience,” said Natasha Midgely ’05. “It allowed for that intensity that the play depends upon.” Midgely played Antigone, the ever-resistant and heroic young woman bound by fate to a premature death. Nitz-Gund also took a very minimalist approach to costuming and set design. White, a color of purity and innocence, was assigned to the two young lovers, Antigone and Haemon. Creon, the authoritative figure played by Stephen Fee ’03, was dressed in blue, bold, and business-like. Nitz-Gund complemented Fee’s blue suit with faint blue lighting from the wings. The set, or lack thereof, was nothing but the bare essentials. With no backdrop of any kind, the empty Tang auditorium gave the stage a sense of depth, adding an almost castle-like grandeur to the room. A single chair, representational of a throne, was used throughout the play as a symbol of power. Whenever it was employed, it complemented the sense of authority allotted to whichever character was using it. The only other prop was a red and yellow cord, introduced by the Chorus, played by Justine Wardrop ’03 and Tara Gadgil ’03. The cord, which Wardrop teased with scissors, served as a symbol of fate, the scissors ready to cut and, thus, end the life of Antigone. This minimalism, says Nitz-Gund, was used to put the emphasis on the words and their significance. Unfortunately, these artistic choices could not save the play from its script. An updated version of Sophocles’s classic, Anouilh’s interpretation of Antigone is not strong in and of itself, nor does it convey as strong of a message as Sophocles’s original. Written during World War II, Anouilh’s version of the play contains subtle hints and allusions to the war and the struggles of resistance groups within France. Nitz-Gund, however, did not take advantage of this available element of the script, thus leaving the audience with the feeling that the play lacked purpose and meaning. Additionally, Nitz-Gund’s blocking of the play seemed to lack the same kind of general theme or purpose. Actors roamed all around the stage, filling the space rather nicely, but without objective or reason. This factor only added to the production’s lack of flow and cohesiveness, qualities that the play so badly needed. With a script containing such long and almost tedious dialogue, the constant movement seemed to be an effort to hold the audience’s attention. Although it succeeded, it also provided distraction and a awkward feeling on stage. Despite the lack of fluidity, the actors did a superb job in fulfilling their parts. They were well rehearsed and remarkably believable, something rarely achieved in a theatre workshop. They play went off without a hitch, with Wardrop and Gadgil orchestrating the show and cluing in the audience to the action at hand. The Chorus fulfilled an all-knowing god-like role. They dressed in all black – a powerful yet neutral color. Innovative blocking on the part of Nitz-Gund found Gadgil delivering lines from the first and second balconies of Tang, giving a unique sense of perspective to the performance. Strong performances by Nick Pappadopoulos ’04 as Haemon and Catalina McCallum ’05 as Ismene added depth to the production. “They did well in their parts, especially considering the complexity of the characters they played,” commented Fee, who had a fantastic performance in a role not especially suited to his acting style. Sims Witherspoon ’05 as the nurse, Ryan Chapoteau ’04 and Anthony Reyes ’05 as the guards, and Kendra Allenby ’05 as the messenger rounded out the cast. Erika Chow ’06 stage-managed for the show. This relatively inexperienced supporting cast really stuck it out through the entire production. The short rehearsal time for a play of such length was an obstacle that the cast “dealt with marvelously,” said producer David Linfield ’03. On Friday night, despite all the pressure put on the cast during production week, the performers looked calm and collected. They built upon this confidence to achieve the amazing climax at the end of the show. It was a sound performance by the cast for a theatre workshop production. In a final break from the ordinary, director Nitz-Gund held a would-be question and answer session following the curtain call. She elaborated on Antigone being an experiment with new techniques in directing and staging, adding that it was a “work in progress,” hence the name theatre workshop. Unfortunately for Nitz-Gund, her session never really got going, with only one question being asked. The audience was antsy to get their blood flowing again, especially due to the fact that there was standing room only. All in all, Antigone was a solid performance by the cast, that was somewhat brought down by a poorly written script. The play proved to be a tremendous learning experience for all parties involved, just as a theatre workshop should be. Look forward to Nitz-Gund’s next project, it will surely not be one to miss.